What is our mission in education? Not in education as school, but in the overall perspective of lifelong learning? Let’s look at the question without discussing individual job-related competencies or discrete level-specific skills. What is the point of learning?
The point, I believe, is to empower and to motivate ourselves, and our learners. But this is not just empowerment and motivation in the present. The point is to empower in such a way that future-proofs society, by cultivating learners who will continue their development throughout their lives.
This is an important difference from what we consider “traditional” education, with its discrete leveled goals. How many times have you heard learners say that they didn’t need anything they learned in some school or subject or grade? That’s the perception, and the reality, that we need to eliminate.
Today’s social and technology landscape offers a unique opportunity to offer blended learning without boundaries. Consumer technology and social networking companies have understood this and are acting accordingly. If we do not do the same in schools, higher education, and training, then we are not only risking, but indeed we are ensuring our own irrelevance.
Our core values should be our starting point. Learning is pointless without these core values, because it’s not the skill that matters; it’s what we do with the skill. Values guide our behaviour and govern how we work together as we carry out our mission and vision. These values are: integrity, commitment, excellence, risk-taking, teamwork, accountability, improvement, openness, alignment, and courage. Each of these deserves its own article related to learning, but that is a project for the future.
Having established these core values, we then have to dive deeper, into our guiding principles. These principles apply to several aspects:
LEARNING FACILITATORS & TEACHING
We start with the teacher and teaching. There is, in short, no effective limit on how much should be done to develop and grow teachers, mentors, and facilitators. But this development must be much more effective that it is today. For teachers, the idea is not train for the teaching for the test. For university instructors and professors, the point is not the procurement of a diploma. And in corporate training, the point is not formal compliance.
Learning facilitators are models of continuous learning and improvement; they inspire, motivate & empower learners; they set the conditions for a welcoming environment; they are knowledgeable and competent in pedagogy and human development; they relate to & connect with learners and maintain a constant focus on the future. In short, they are the single most important factor in learners’ understanding. We need to remember that teaching and learning are a cause and effect relationship, that teaching is collaborative and involves ongoing learning, and that teaching reflects research on learning and cognition. It’s an art, but a science as well.
When you look for a common thread unifying lifelong learning, you always return to the concept of community. This is the word that communicates a unity of values and the fact that all of us are partners in the learning process. It is the community, not the administrator, that drives policy, practices, expectations and accountability. It is the community that allows for risk taking and the development of a shared purpose and direction greater than a collection of disembodied opinions.
LEARNERS & LEARNING
It may sound banal when baldly stayed, but all learners can learn. In fact, the mission of universal primary and secondary education is to affirm this fact. Like many supposedly banal things, however, this is more easily said than realized in the real world. Learners acquire knowledge in different ways and timeframes. Successful learning breeds continued success which influences esteem, attitude and motivation. Mistakes happen; they are a feature of the system, not a bug. And although learning and curiosity are basic human drives, nothing happens without engagement.
Having said this, we should therefore concentrate on providing positive and validating relationships with learning facilitators; enhancing wisdom with meaningful, real-life experiences requiring complex thinking; and fostering learning with frequent, formative feedback.
There are a few more elements making up our vision for lifelong learning, that pertain to learning tools and how we use them.
We need to have outcomes, they need to be applicable throughout a lifetime, and they need to be front of mind in every stage of the curriculum design process. A learner is not a paint by numbers canvas. Periodic summative tests are not the point. The point is to be successful in life. By extension, curriculum outcomes need to be clear to the teacher and learner, as likewise should be expectations. All curriculum should be related to life and relevant. It must ensure that each learner is prepared academically, socially, and emotionally. And it needs to include basic knowledge, but also be designed to accommodate the learning style and the interests of individual learners.
INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICE AND TECHNOLOGY
We need to make maximum use of technology for learning. Not because of technology per se, not because learning is different, but because the same is true of technology everywhere. If it’s useful and productive and engaging, why would you not do it? Because of technology, facilitators can concentrate on the most important learning outcomes and on the reality of personalization; and anyone can learn most anything, from any place, at any time. Separating technology implementation from instructional practice is precisely what we should not be doing.
When learning opportunities have real-world context, they often do not follow a single traditional field of study. And although we can never fully eliminate the reality of grades and levels, think of them as administrative realities, not as outcomes. For the foreseeable future, kids will move from the seventh to eighth grade. That’s fine. But it’s not learning, and it’s not curriculum, and it’s not outcomes. Customize learning to the individual learner, and let the grade levels fall where they may.
The key here is to eliminate the idea of assessment as a snapshot, and instead to look on this area as a formative, organic measurement of expectations and accountability within a community. All assessment should be directly aligned with learning outcomes. We must identify what we want learners to know, be able to do, and to be like; then we teach to those learner outcomes, and we assess student progress based upon those learning outcomes. That is, there is direct alignment between learner outcomes, instruction, and learner assessment.
Finally, learners should be allowed and encouraged to demonstrate their learning in various ways. Written tests are not the dominant manner for assessing learning. Furthermore, if we meet individual student learning needs, we can justify higher expectations for achievement.
How do we use technology to increase access to learning opportunities? By providing access and fostering equity. By thinking of technology as one effective accelerator of learning when possible and appropriate. By letting learners use what they have when they can instead of mandating. And by making all technology decisions based upon the positive impact the technology will have on learners.
Who will be our teachers, mentors, and leaders? The most pernicious opinion about teachers is the old saw that “those who can’t, teach.” Of all the insulting statements about important jobs, this is among the worst. You’d never say that about someone teaching brain surgery… but we’ve all heard it said about schoolteachers. We need to treat our teachers and trainers like professionals, with the attendant expectations and commensurate recompense. Not just recompense in money, but in respect, prestige, and freedom to innovate. Facilitators, in turn, need to take their role as models seriously and behave accordingly.
Written by Myron Cizdyn, eLearning Journeys, Poland
The pre-conference workshop Cultivating Lifelong Learners will take place on Wednesday, December 5. Participation is free of charge.