Friday, September 25, 2015

Life-long, life-deep and life-wide learning

In  a classroom, or within any group of learners, the reality is that each individual has a different learning experience, even while they all are instructed the same way. Fascinating, isn't it?!

We all bring into the learning situation our own learning history and cultural background, our life-long, life-wide and life-deep understanding what learning is. What we all need is support for our individual development, and empowering learning facilitation that helps us to learn even more.  This support is the basis of good learning experiences. In order to further strengthen learning we as teachers must have a strong communicative intent in our work, instead of emphasizing the code or doxa, which has different features in all educational institutions, depending their location and culture. Yet, regardless of the culture, the effort to communicate and support learning instead to reinforce and mandate compliance is what sets great schools and teachers apart from others!

Principles of life-long, life-deep and life-wide learning:

  1. Learning is situated in broad socio-economic and historical contexts and is mediated by local cultural practices and perspectives. 
  2. Learning takes place not only in school but also in the multiple contexts and valued practices of everyday lives across the life span
  3. All learners need multiple sources of support from a variety of institutions to promote their personal and intellectual development. 
  4. Learning is facilitated when learners are encouraged to use their home and community language resources as a basis for expanding their linguistic repertoires.

I am expanding these principles to apply to all learners, not just multicultural, because every student has their own diverse home- and family culture which sets them apart from the rest of the group and contributes to the learning experience.

Every student needs to know that all learning counts, both formal and informal. Invisible learning and measuring what we value (instead of trying to value what we measure) are what education should be about, because learning cannot be limited to schools and universities!


Read more about life-long, life-wide and life-deep learning:
Learning in and out of school in diverse environments: Life-long, life-wide, life-deep. LIFE Center, University of Washington, Stanford University, and SRI International, 2007. Retrieved from:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wonderings about learning and intelligence

It seems that intelligence - or the way how we understand intelligence - is very much context dependent. In formal education those students who are able to reproduce the learning material delivered to them are often considered to be intelligent. This ability is evidenced by various exams, multiple choice tests, and other evaluations. The need to do well in exams is ingrained into students thinking very early on, and often students develop their (academic) self-concepts according to the grades they receive. To me this way of knowing (rule-based, or instrumental, see Kegan 1982, 2000; Drago-Severson 2004) is just a beginning of becoming a learner.

When you are invited to play a game, you most likely will want to follow the rules, in order to gain something from playing - whether it is winning a price like getting your diploma, or something else we perceive having value, like being accepted by your peers and other people. This certainly is socially intelligent behaviour, but how much does it really relate to the cognitive part of intelligence: the physiological effectiveness of out neural system in storing and retrieving data from the brain and the ways of knowing? Or understanding our own values and being willing and able to negotiate with those who have conflicting views?

IQ testing is an attempt to measure operational intelligence. The component behind our cognitive skills (language/math skills, logical reasoning, spatial sense, etc) is called the general intelligence factor. While I do recall going through reading speed testing at school, I never got the impression that intelligence would have been overly emphasized during my schooling. The message was more along the lines that everyone can learn and that we should engage in dialogue to better understand each other.

So, what about the meaning-oriented learning, and the intelligence that is much harder to measure by standardized IQ test? My own thinking about intelligence and learning is growing along the lines of the adult development and life-long learning, and I think that reproductive learning orientation is not sufficient.

Van Rossum & Hamer have a fascinating book "The Meaning of Learning and Knowing" that has influenced my thinking about how we learn.

Learning as understanding the connections between different theories or models is the way I see broad/general intelligence to be used best. This type of learning includes challenges and problem solving, but also requires lots of collaborative meaning-making and learner agency being a central part of each individual journey.

I think I am a lifelong learner -- there is so much to lean, and so little time to do it!


Drago-Severson, E. (2004). Becoming adult learners: Principles and practices for effective development. Teachers College Press.
Kegan, R. (2009). What” form” transforms. A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. Teoksessa K. Illeris (toim.) Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists in their own words. Abingdon: Routledge, 35-54.
Van Rossum, E. J., & Hamer, R. N. (2010). The meaning of learning and knowing. Sense Publishers.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Children - natural born learners

Every child has a deep, innate curiosity about the surrounding world. This is the first learning environment we face. We all are born with a need to survive and experience the life, and to make sense of what we see, hear and feel. This is the force behind all real learning, and the reason for us to engage in the fundamental learning processes of acquisition and elaboration  (Illeris, 2009).

We use the information we gather from out everyday lives to construct our understanding about ourselves, the life, universe and everything. Children are equipped with tools for learning to make sense of their surroundings - just think what all is accomplished during the first 2-3 years after birth! This informal learning is an enormous force the formal education has chosen not to use. 

I found the following image to illustrate the differences in formal and informal learning. 

Not only are children intelligent and gifted, but they are also motivated to learn.  They are expert learners, because through purposeful play children experience the thrill of genuine achievement -- have you seen a child succeed for the first time in something they have repeatedly tried to do? Recall that triumphant smile?

Here is a list of definitions for good learners: 
  1. Curiosity
  2. Pursuing understanding
  3. Recognizing that learning is not always fun (thinking of a two-year-old who wants to succeed, even if it is frustrating)
  4. Knowing failure is beneficial 
  5. Making their own knowledge 
  6. Always asking questions
  7. Sharing what they have learned

It looks pretty similar to the items in the image about learning, doesn't it? But this list was created for students in higher education.  You can find the original article here. I think good quality learning is universal and does not depend on the age of the learner.  To reverse the negative effects of schooling we should teach about the mindset to empower deeper learning. 

By the time children enter the formal education system they are already expert learners. Depending on the feedback children/students receive about their learning explorations, they will either continue to the direction they are headed, or venture into something else.  Why don't we use their curiosity and enthusiasm by providing meaningful learning experiences and encouraging their questions? Why does school have to promote compliance over critical thinking? 

Illeris, K. (2009). A comprehensive understanding of human learning.Contemporary theories of learning, 7-20.

#wfe2  Reflection post about intelligence and  expert learners. What future for education?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Growing Confident, Curious and Capable Learners

Choosing How to Teach and 3Cs are making a difference in the lives of teachers and students.  The feedback I have received from teachers taking the professional development courses about the philosophical and practical changes has been wonderful! 

Here is another 3Cs to think about: as teachers we should try our best to ensure that graduating students are confidentcurious and capable learners, who will continue to learn on their own. These are the outcomes for using the model explained in the Choosing How to Teach - book.

We cannot think about education as a fixed 12-year long period of learning that prepares students for living in 21st century world.  It is just the beginning of the journey. Lifelong learning belongs into a large scale paradigm change in education. The way we perceive the nature of knowledge and learning, and the role of a teacher are starting to change to reflect the 21st century and the needs of information/knowledge society, where lifelong learning is a must. Growth mindset is one part of lifelong learning.

Imagine what happens if students leave the formal education system hating learning: they will be trapped in many ways because not only is the world changing faster than ever before, also employers require their employees to be willing to learn throughout the career.

So, how to help our students to become confident, curious and capable in learning? 
  1. Use non-punitive assessment that emphasizes the value of learning from making mistakes and reconstructing one's own thinking.
  2. Make learning meaningful for students by embedding choices to pique students cognitive interest and curiosity.
  3. Lead students to understand the value of collaborative meaning-making by modeling it in the classroom.
The confidence and the positive academic self-concept grow from engaging in the learning process and refining one's own thinking. It is awesome to hear students to explain how they understood the misconceptions they had before! Using constructive practices in the classroom helps students to reflect their own thinking and learning.

Curiosity is very important for all learning, and an easy way to encourage the use of curiosity in the classroom is to embed informal learning to the formal curriculum. Does it really matter where students found the information if they can cite their source and justify using it?

Collaboration (both virtual and f2f) and being able to communicate about learned in writing or talking are big parts of being a capable learner. Students who engage in cooperative learning during their k-12 education learn to share their own ideas and pay attention to other students' ideas as well.   

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Learning Cycles

When talking about learning cycles we often refer to the processes that occur while  we perceive, choose, reflect, store and retrieve data and information that our surroundings provide. It is often displayed as a cycle, because the new information needs to become a part of the already existing knowledge in order for learning (i.e. acquisition and elaboration, Illeris, 2009) to be meaningful for student. There must be connections between the newly learned material and things we have already learned. If the contradiction is too big students get confused and/or disengaged. It is hard to be interested in something that doesn't make any sense, which is the main reason for me to always emphasize the importance of including choices for students in the basic design of instruction.

Instructional design aims to improve the teaching and learning processes and occurs before the actual teaching happens. Sometimes the design only focuses on individual lessons, but even then it is fairly easy to include optional activities and assignments for students, so that they can choose from a selection and find something that is personally meaningful for them.  In the teaching situation we as teachers use different strategies, teaching methods and techniques to enhance students progress in moving through these cycles of perceiving, choosing, reflecting, storing and retrieving. Some teaching methods emphasize reflection, others emotional input or maybe learning from trial and error. The cycle is still utilized either visibly or behind the scenes. My choice most often is to talk about metacognition and make the cycle visible for students, so that they have better grasp and control of their own learning process.

There are different  visuals available in the internet about the learning cycle. Most quoted or modified is probably the Kolb's (1984) experiential cycle, which has provided the prerequisites for my own thinking about learning process. 

No matter where is our preferred phase to start learning (Experiencing, Reviewing, Concluding or Planning), there are certain things to consider while we are setting the scene for learning, if we want the cycle to be rolling and support the learning process:
  1. What is the role of the learner? Are they included in decisions about what and how they learn?
  2. Are learners' perspectives taken into account while planning the learning experience?
  3. Are individual differences accommodated and valued so that we won't have 26 identical "experiments"? (Please note: an experiment, like research, cannot have a known result before starting the experiment!)
  4. Are learners co-creators of the learning process?

These questions are not new. They are based on learner-centered principles of APA Work Group in 1997. Designing instruction that supports learning is easier when we use these principles of learner-centered education, and empower students to engage in their own learning process. 

Learning is extremely individual, because what we each see/hear/think depends on our previous experiences and the unique filters we all have. Thus, while presented with the same information we process it in diverse ways. Even in a collective learning situation we all are engaged in our own personal learning process. Understanding that learning and teaching are not the two sides of the same coin is the beginning.  Students learn all the time, but they may not be learning things we wanted them to learn.

To further explore the way learning process is described within the experiential learning theory, you might want to look into the Honey and Mumford (2000) learning style questionnaire based on Kolb's cycle.

APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: Guidelines for school reform and redesign. WashingtonDC: American Psychological Association.
Honey, P., & Mumford, A. (2000). The learning styles helper's guide. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Peter Honey.
Illeris, K. (2009). A comprehensive understanding of human learning.Contemporary theories of learning, 7-20.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development.
Kolb, D. A., Boyatzis, R. E., & Mainemelis, C. (2001). Experiential learning theory: Previous research and new directions. Perspectives on thinking, learning, and cognitive styles, 1, 227-247

The Future of Education?

I stumbled upon an interesting looking course in Coursera: What future for education?

Of course, I got instantly hooked on the question. Where is education going? How could we make education better? Where should it go??

The introduction is promising: In this course, our aim is to encourage you to start thinking and questioning ideas about education.

There are very few more intriguing questions than that! An invitation to think! I love open ended questions!

This is the first reflective piece, the assignment for week 1: 
Based on your experience as a learner, what do you think you will be able to get out of this course? And what ideas do you already have about the future of education?

I certainly have lots of learning experiences, both formal and informal, and I would like to think that I am quite professional in learning. My own teaching philosophy relies on collaborative meaning-making, which makes it so crucially important for me to regularly take my own advice and reflect on my thinking, learning and knowing. I am sure this course will help me in doing this. 

My expectations are for learning new insights about education, new ways for empowering learners, and new ideas for connecting with like-minded educators. I am also looking for new tools for authoring and facilitating PD courses for teachers and faculty, and one of the best ways for keeping the fresh touch as a teacher is to walk in the shoes of students and engage in somewhat formal learning experiences.

My ideas about the future of education are plentiful and diverse. I strongly believe in learner-centered education and learner agency being the future of education. Students cannot be seen as automatons producing prescribed outcomes as a result of their engagement, like puppets spewing out factoids taught by the search machines. 

Learning happens in interactions, no matter what technology we use (or don't use).  In today's interconnected world the need for students to be able to choose the information they use is clearly becoming a very pressing issue for formal education: the teacher (or the university or school) cannot be seen as the main source of information or knowledge, because information and misinformation are freely available for anyone who has access to the internet. The premise of learning and measuring learning has already changed. We as teachers must know how to ask non-googlable questions - which is good, because these questions focus on understanding connections, instead of just memorizing a bunch of facts.

My big question is: we already have the necessary technology to personalize education to meet the needs of each and every student. Why don't we use technology for that?