Teacher Direction v Learner Direction

I came across Judith Boettcher’s ten core principles for designing effective learning environments this week.  Number 3, “Faculty Mentors are the Directors of the Learning Experience,”  has me pondering.

I’ll stipulate that there’s wide variance among any group of learners in the extent to which a given learner can function auto-didactically.  That said, given society’s rate of change, there will be times that you will need to learn something for which the textbook/course syllabus has not yet been written. Constraints such as cost can also limit the availability of highly structured learning experiences when those do exist. Therefore, how much of the formal learning process should involve preparing/practicing for those kind of situations, what Dave Cormier calls “learning for uncertainty?”  (I realize now I’m echoing my last post, I guess I have a theme this week.)

At the very least, adults need enough metacognitive awareness so they can accurately assess which things they can learn independently, and which things, for them, require a more structured approach (___________ for Dummies or perhaps even signing up for a class)  I would go so far as to suggest that this knowledge of what learning methods, materials and approaches work best for you is the distinguishing characteristic of the archetypical ‘educated person’. If you learn that skill, you are well prepared to learn anything else you need to know. Stephen Downes puts it more eloquently here.

So, if faculty mentors are the directors, how do we make sure that students are also in “directing class” as they learn whatever it is, and how is directing one person’s learning experience — their own, different from the kind of collective direction we provide in a class?  Does online learning blur that distinction?

Everything Old is New Again

Mike Caulfield reminds us this week that many concepts we associate with the latest and greatest trends in technology-supported learning have in fact been around for a long time.  He linked to a B.F. Skinner film on teaching machines to support his point and asked the important question, “Why will this work this time around?”

Several interesting things have come up in the comment thread and I’ll put in my 2 cents (not Canadian, however) here.

Mike refers to the importance of learning structure and the comparative ineffectiveness of discovery learning.  My concern is that discovery learning is in and of itself a real-world skill.  There are times when you find yourself in a situation where there isn’t much structure and you must, with little guidance, figure stuff out.  Is that a skill that can be taught in a highly structured way, or does it need to be practiced?

I liked Skinner’s analogy of programmer to textbook author/teacher (“It is the author of the program, not the machines, who teaches.”)  Perhaps where we went wrong was in not making learning design and programming an essential part , or perhaps even the core, of education curricula.

Mike refers to the importance of presence.  Hasn’t telepresence come a very long way in the last decade? The existence of tools like Google Hangouts has begun to break a constraint which restricted learning for thousands of years, the limitation that one had to be studying the same things as those physically near them.  Ben Rimes has begun an interesting experiment in this direction with Book Club 106, a distributed book discussion group operating via Google Hangout.

Finally, Mike talks about the balance between individualization and shared experience.  I think Ben’s experiment is a good example of how , with some help from networks, groups of people learning together can develop, if not spontaneously, at least with fairly low overhead.  To be fair to Mike, this doesn’t address the role of common experience in building a society, that is to say, what common experiences and knowledge ought I share with my neighbors down the block?

As is usual , I’ve ask more questions than I’ve answered, but my one or two regular readers know that’s pretty typical.