Friday, August 27, 2010

Unlearning learning

I've just read an excellent post by Will Richardson called Unlearning Teaching. It deals with the problematic transition from the teacher being a content provider and conveyor of knowledge to being a facilitator and mentor.

"I think that’s one of the hardest shifts in thinking for teachers to make, the idea that they are no longer central to student learning simply because they are in the room. When learning value can be found in a billion different places, the teacher has to see herself as one of many nodes of learning, and she has to be willing to help students find, vet, and interact with those other nodes in ways that place value at the center of the interaction, meaning both ways. It’s not just enough to add those who bring value; we must create value in our networks as well."

The trouble is that the traditional role of the teachers is so deeply ingrained in society that it is extremely difficult to change. Many feel threatened or at least insecure with the idea that students no longer rely on teachers for the information they need and that their lectures can now be compared with hundreds of similar ones available free on the net. I think this insecurity lies behind a lot of the reluctance to engage with technology in education. Disruptive technology like the social web or whatever you like to call it forces us to revise previously given concepts.

But it's not just the teachers who have to unlearn teaching. Students are also influenced by traditional notions. Even if we often assume that all students are positive to net-based learning I suspect that many are just as traditional as the teachers. If you have been brought up with the concept of school as teacher-led classrooms it takes a lot of courage and effort to accept other forms of learning. The lecture model is after all very comfortable and new models require considerably more effort.

I sometimes hear criticism of teachers who "don't teach properly". Many teachers try to encourage more collaborative learning but are met with questions like "is this in the exam?" Even if the school is genuinely interested in "unlearning teaching" they have to persuade the students of the benefits of such a move (and sometimes also the parents). The prevalent view of education today is still the idea that a teacher "teaches" and a student "learns". We need to redefine these terms to move forward and that requires open discussion and political will to really reassess how we create a learning society.

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