Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Superficial Learning’

The Future is NOT in LEARNing …(the RE-Boot)

In Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 06/07/2013 at 7:45 am


big bad İSTANBUL

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I know, I know…been doing a few too many of these RE-boots of late and you are getting fed up of them!

Actually, there is a method in my recent bout of bloggery madnessto be honest…a few methods – I’m reviewing ideas for a couple of new book thunks, I’m getting the chance to catch up on a few image credits that I have skipped (by accident, honest to God!) and I’m looking at a few ideas for new posts!

I’ve chosen this one – not because it was really popular…but, because I liked it!

‘Tis my blog afterall…

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This post followed a slightly more quirky post entitled “Not all LEARNing is created equal!” – and I was trying to thunk through the issues of RElearning, UNlearning and UPlearning…without wanting to stab someone in the head (or throat…the eye, even) every time they came up in conversation!

I am not a violent man…by nature…I do, usually, have a high tolerance for ambiguity (and “bullshit”)…but I just cannot cope with people who make up wordbites in order to have a stab at their 15 minutes!

But, this one was calmer than my usual “rants” – see what you thunk!

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OK…quickly look at the “title” of the post, again!

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WTF (with doggies)

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Now, I bet you never expected to see THAT kind of title on THIS blog!

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In one of my recent posts – Not All LEARNing is Created Equal – I finished up by using Alvin Toffler’s well-known, but over-used, quote:

UNlearn and RElearn (Toffler quote) Ver 02

…and suggested that schools, colleges and universities really needed to do a great deal of UNlearning and RElearning – if they wanted to get serious about moving from the SUPERFICIAL LEARNing we see so much of and “pick up the ball” in terms of the type of TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing our students need.

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I began to wonder about this – and did a bit of thunking.

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What I discovered was that Toffler did not actually “say” this – what he actually put down on paper was:

“The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction — how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.

(Future Shock, 1970: p.271)

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And, you can imagine my shock when he revealed that he was using the words of Herbert Gerjuoy – after they had had a casual chat!

Do I really need to go back and re-edit all my graphics and images???

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Maybe, the future really is all about UNlearning and RElearning

Maybe, I need to change the name of my blog…

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Maybe…

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Actually, (if I was really honest) I “stole” today’s title from Kathy Sierra and the wonderful blog she runs with Dan Russell – Creating Passionate Users (go on…click on it, you know you want to)!

Kathy’s post is also not that “new” – it dates back to 2005 (so I’m guessing it’s OK to swipe her title). Kathy also lets us know that she was “inspired” – also “code” for “nicking stuff” in learning and teaching circles – by John Seely Brown over a decade ago)!

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Come on Tony – get to the bloody point, won’t you?

There are plenty of other blogs that use far less words than you…and package their sound bites for easier “consumption”!

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OK – so the “deal” is that Kathy wrapped up her ideas in a neat little “timeline”:

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Kathy also explained her rationale:

Yes, we’re under pressure to learn more and to learn quickly, but the future goes to those who can unlearn faster than the rest, because you can’t always learn something new until you first let go of something else. And learning to let go of rules is one of the first things we have to learn to be quicker at. Sometimes that means letting go of something that served you well for a long time. And that’s the toughest thing.

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And, finished up by saying / asking:

Forget LEARNing (Home Alone graphic)

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Now, this is a pretty “sexy idea” – and I can see why so many people picked up on it in the business world.

It’s interesting that many of the people who did run with the idea have a “busyness background” – both Alvin Toffler and John Seely Brown, for example.

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Even Kathy’s powerful examples show her background and focus:

  • UNlearn what your target market is (because it just changed).
  • UNlearn the way you advertise and market (because your market just got a lot smarter).
  • UNlearn the way you approach your brand (because it’s no longer within your control).
  • UNlearn the way you teach (because learners need to unlearn and learn simultaneously)
  • UNlearn the way you treat your employees (because before you know it, that “meets expectations” review might come back to haunt you on a blog )
  • UNlearn the technology you use (self-explanatory… we’re all living this one)
  • UNlearn the methodology you use
  • UNlearn the designs you use
  • UNlearn the words you use to describe your business

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I agree that these suggestions are pretty critical if you are involved in running a business – if you do not do these things, basically you go out of business! The difference is that “in business” we see a lot more STRATEGIC LEARNing or SURFACE LEARNing that gets us what we want – and we all know that “faking-it-till-you make-it” is a pretty common strategy in business circles.

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We can’t do that in education – there’s more at stake than “sales” or “profit maximisation”. SURFACE and SUPERFICIAL LEARNing do not cut it…

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Besides, we also need to ask whether UNlearning actually “exists” in the “real world” – whether it is a real “thingy”! Hey, maybe this why Toffler did not use the words we so often attribute to him…he is a very smart cookie…

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Covey tells us (and you know how I loves me “Uncle Stephen”):

3 Constants (Covey quote) Ver 03

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What I take from this is that no one ever really UNlearns anything – we just LEARN more and make different choices.

Hopefully, we make “principled choices” – and this is the start of TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing.

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One of the key elements of TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing is “perspective transformation”.

Mezirow tells us that this:

“…is the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world; changing these structures of habitual expectation to make possible a more inclusive, discriminating, and integrating perspective; and, finally, making choices or otherwise acting upon these new understandings” (Mezirow 1991, p. 167).

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If we are to ensure that our schools, colleges and universities change the processes and practices that have led to the widespread levels of SURFACE and SUPERFICIAL LEARNing we see these days, they need to TAKE a LEARNing Perspective – not just “have a perspective on learning”.

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This means asking some tough questions – the first of which are:

  • Are our schools, colleges and universities LEARNing institutions or TEACHing institutions?
  • Do our schools, colleges and universities “teach” STUDENTS or “teach” COURSES?

If we are honest (and many institutions have already walked down this path), we see the need for more (similar) questions:

  • What are we here to do for our LEARNers?
  • What really “matters” in an education system?
  • What stops students from LEARNing in our schools and system?
  • What is wrong with the way we are currently “doing business”?

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It is questions like these that really get the “perspective transformation” engine fired up – and help us see the need to TAKE action and start walking-our-new-talk:

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  • What does it take for a LEARNer to flourish in the complex realities of the 21st century?
  • What can we do to expand and improve the LEARNing of all our students and staff?
  • What can we do to dramatically increase the ability of our schools and our teachers to LEARN and keep on LEARNing?
  • How do we know this?

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4 types of LEARNing Ver 03

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Hey, with questions like these who has time to worry about UNlearning and RElearning ?

let’s just get on with the LEARNing and make better choices!

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Can I keep the name of my blog, now?

– allthingsUNlearning just don’t seem like such a great idea after all!

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NB: You know, yes?…that the “F” in “WTF”…means “flip” (or maybe “frak” – at a push)!

Not all LEARNing is created equal!

In Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 23/02/2012 at 1:27 am

 

Stay out of school (Margaret Mead quote) Ver 03

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Maybe it’s because I’m a “Brit” – but I never really got the “Immortal Declaration” and it’s not just because we were not allowed to finish our Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches at a certain “tea party” way back in 1773.

It’s also not about the fact that some of the Founding Fathers wanted to “hang onto” their slaves while penning the phrase “all men are created equal” – and took almost another 75 years to realise that perhaps the declaration should cover women, too…

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OK, OK – we Brits didn’t do a great job on the issue of women’s suffrage either and our women had to burn down the Prime Minister’s house and get themselves trampled by the King’s horse before they were allowed to vote on the same terms as men!

Tony…get back to LEARNing! …NOW!

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It’s just that the Immortal Declaration ain’t truewe are not created equally.

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Just as LEARNing is not created equally in our schools, colleges and universities

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OK…he’s back on track!

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For many years (and far too many words) I have been asking why it is that our educational institutions cannot evidence the LEARNing they “create”and why most do not even try!

I’m not talking about standardised test scoresthese frequently do little more than evidence the lack of real LEARNing in our schools. And, I’m certainly not talking about the way “top universities” cream off the best high school students and then take credit for “results” they had little to do with.

I’m talking about the real “added LEARNing value” that schools produce. Very few…and I mean VERY few educational institutions can do this.

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For me, institutions and teachers can usually produce one of four types of LEARNing:

4 types of LEARNing Ver 03

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We know this – we all know teachers who manage (consistently) to get that little extra from the students and groups they LEARN with, teachers who change lives…and we also know teachers who do not!

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Now, some of you may look at these and say “Tony, aren’t all these more associated with the learning styles and preferences of students themselves”?

True – but the purpose of an educational institution is to “produce” (or “co-create”) LEARNing. So, I’m guessing it’s pretty fair to ask these institutions to tell us what type of LEARNing they “really” produce. Besides, we all know that what we DO says more about us than what we SAY we DO – and evidencing what we DO is a basic prerequisite of quality assurance, isn’t it?

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Most of you will have got your heads around the DEEP and SURFACE varieties by taking a look at (for starters) at the work of Marton and Säljö (1976) and a whole pile of related research papers that you can’t even remember (says a lot, yes?). And, while we all might know that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to LEARN – we recognise that the former is all about “real understanding” and “LEARNing for the future”, while the latter focusses on “acceptance” of established information and facts (and perhaps, shock-horror, “memorisation”).

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Research into DEEP LEARNing, for example, tells us that many of its characteristics are:

  • Looking for meaning
  • Focusing on central ideas and arguments
  • Active interaction
  • The ability to distinguish between evidence and argument
  • Making numerous connections
  • Relating new knowledge and ideas to previous knowledge
  • Linking classroom learning to real-life

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However, if we only look at DEEP and SURFACE LEARNing as “approaches to study” by students themselves – we actually come up with a neat little “get-out-of-jail-free card” and can abdicate all responsibility for LEARNing by simply “blaming” students for any form of “failure” that crops up. Basically, we can turn around and say all these characteristics are the things that students have to / should “do” themselves (in order to be successful) – and if not…hey, we did our “best” with “bad” tools!

Most other business organisations and companies would give their right arms for a “trick” like this!

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The question remains:

How do most students LEARN these approaches to LEARNing?

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Students are not “born” with the ability to relate new knowledge to old. There is no “gene” that fires up and allows students to relate classroom LEARNing to the “real world” – they LEARN this stuff from their LEARNing experiences, they LEARN this from “schools”!

They also LEARN this from how we TEACH them (over years and years), the LEARNing experiences we design for them and they way we reward them – as teachers.

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The potential of education to make a real, meaningful difference to the lives of students is well-known to teachers familiar with the work of Dewey (even more so if you know a bit about Aristotle, Plato, and Confucius). But, it was Jack Mezirow that really flagged the need for institutions and educators to focus more on  TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNingDEEP LEARNing on steroids!

Yes, a lot of his work was directed at “adult” LEARNing – I’ll give you that. But, what school teacher worth her salt does not think about the need for critical reflection, self-knowledge, autonomy, participation, and communication (not to mention “humanism”, “emancipation” and “equity”) in the classroom?

What school principal would stand up and say (publically) that she is not interested in creating “educational experiences” that develop critical and autonomous thinking in all students and allow them continuously evolve their “meaning schemes” (specific beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions) and engage in on-going “perspective transformation” that makes them better learners, better people (mummies and daddies, especially) and better citizens?

OK – they might not use those actual words but you get the idea.

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TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNing is what we know (in our heart of hearts) education should be about. I mean isn’t the point of all education supposed to be about making REAL differences to the lives (and futures) of REAL people (even “little” people)…

The sad truth is that many schools, colleges and universities say this is the “business” they are in – few can prove it.

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The forth type of LEARNing is an interesting one – interesting because it is not discussed a great deal. A second cousin of SURFACE LEARNing it is also another “extreme“– but an extreme that is more common that we would imagine.

SUPERFICIAL LEARNing was coined (and “trademarked” – WTH) by Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2004) and, as you may imagine, it also has a number of characteristics:

  • Reliance on rote learning or memorisation
  • Passive reception of information
  • Few, or no, connections made to previous knowledge
  • Focus on formulae needed to solve problems
  • Course content viewed simply as material to be learnt for examinations

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However, it is not the characteristics per se that expose SUPERFICIAL LEARNing for what it is – but rather, according to Cohen et al., what this variety of LEARNing tends to be encouraged by;

  • Excessive amounts of material and inert, discrete knowledge as facts
  • An excessive amount of material in the curriculum
  • Relatively high class-contact hours
  • Lack of opportunity to pursue subjects in depth
  • Lack of choice of subjects and methods of study
  • Cynical or conflicting messages about rewards
  • Poor or absent feedback on progress
  • Fear of failure, and, therefore, attempts to avoid failure
  • Lack of independence in studying
  • Lack of interest in, and background knowledge of, the subject matter
  • Assessment methods that create anxiety and that emphasise recall or application of trivial knowledge – rather than asking students to apply understanding
  • Lack of reflective analysis of learning and assessments

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Now, I’m not sure if you would agree with me – but as I look at this list, I see many of the things that schools systems, institutions and teachers “do to students” and far fewer “approaches to study” (on the part of students).

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I get that many institutions cannot “prove” the LEARNing they produce in students (but more should try). It’s tough to break habits we have had since the 7th Century!

However, every single school (and system), college and university could look at how it “does business” – to gain a better idea of what type of LEARNing it is really all about – and perhaps start thinking about what it needs to UNlearn and RElearn before playing the “get-out-of-jail-free card”.

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TEACHers, too…

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We are, after all, the most powerful determinant of the type of LEARNing produced by our institutions!