There are many challenges to effective learning. Even the definition of “effective learning” is a challenge. The industrial scale of most education systems, the constant pressure of time, the changes rippling and ripping through society at any moment, political interference… any of these as a single factor could and does have an effect on the learning experience of students.
There are many parts of the learning experience that, when viewed from the perspective of an individual learner, are laughably uncontrollable. As a learner, I may not be interested in learning about quadratic equations at 11am just because that’s when my class is on. I may not want to discuss iambic pentameter after lunch because I just had a difficult conversation with a friend and need to think deeply about it before moving on.
Now I’m the first to say that we all need purpose in a day and some kind of structure if we are to get anything done. But do we really believe in an age of Khan Academy and personal mobile devices that the content is the most important part of being at a school? We can filter it and remix it for our students in a way that we know works for them, but the most important part isnt the content – it’s that we know our students and what they need at that moment.
It would be almost impossible for us to truly personalise every learning experience within a social context. We probably don’t want to anyway since so much of what we learn, we learn together (though sitting silently in rows whilst working on a task individually isn’t exactly social).
I wonder then how this applies to us when the shackles of compliance have been lifted (to an extent) and we are able to choose and create our own path for learning. Let’s assume educators have a certain level of control over their own professional growth (as opposed to school or system expectations dominating their choices).
Teachers in many jurisdictions in Australia (and overseas) are required to do certain types, lengths and methods of professional learning. I’d argue that a lot of this is targeted at making sure the maximum number of people know the maximum amount of current expectations (legislation, administration, research or pedagogical strategies if we are lucky). Much of this is “spray and pray” in order to affirm that the system is working because X amount of teachers have done Y amount of professional development in the same room at the same time.
The hardest part of professional learning is that we all have different goals and that these might shift on a daily basis. They may be linked or closely aligned to our school or system goals, but they may not be. I spoke about this in my last post but I think it’s important to reiterate that the biggest challenge to learning for our students is that teachers often do not consider themselves learners once they have left a formal role as a ‘student’. We are the adult in the room, vested with all the power and responsibility that comes with being a teacher but when put in the seat of a learner we are not always able to approach it with the same maturity, determination and self-awareness that we apply to our teaching.
The hardest part of learning is realising that it never ends. That high-stakes end-of-school testing is not the end. That a university graduation ceremony is not the end. That landing a job is not the end. That gaining a promotion is not the end. That we are always learning and always breaking new ground in our pathway to further learning. One we can get our heads around that, we must follow it up with the time and resources to facilitate it.
This is, essentially, why I’m building Everybody’s Lifelong Learning App with my co-founder @atulpandey. We want to break down the walls to learning for teachers and other professionals, who are often the last people we talk about when we talk about learning. We want teachers to have a meaningful say in their own learning, regardless of their context. We want people to achieve their goals and form new ones regardless of age or place or qualifications. And we want this to be as easy and efficient as possible and be an independent place for teachers to recommend what they believe is great learning.
I’d love you to check it out at http://www.ellaapp.co and let us know what you think of it so far, and what you think it needs.