Friday, September 23, 2022

Learning - from magic solutions to meaningful processes

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Learning cannot be forced or planned. We can create the right conditions for learning and offer a variety of strategies but the learning comes from within. You have to want to learn and you have to learn how to learn. So in education we work on helping learners to work out how they learn best and then apply those principles to the things they want to learn. We can nudge, guide, support, motivate, challenge and applaud but in the end it is up to the learners. Learning is individual and subject to so many variables but still we search for ways to measure efficiency and upscale process that are simply not scaleable.  

These themes emerge in an interview article from the Centre for Public Impact, 5 Lessons from Olli-Pekka Heinonen and the Finnish National Agency for Education. Please watch the interview on the above link to hear the full details of his proposals. Olli-Pekka Heinonen is the Director General of the Finnish National Agency for Education and in a longer interview he discusses how the Finnish education system has tried to avoid falling into the trap of performance ratings, checkboxes and national solutions. He claims that scaling is failing because it assumes that what works for some will work for all - rather obvious it would seem but so often forgotten. There is no right answer, it all depends on the situation, circumstances and the learning context. Instead of national initiatives in terms of methods and structure we need to empower local initiatives and encourage teachers to compare and adapt from each other.

The alternative vision for scaling developed in EDUFI’s work moves from seeking to scale the innovation(s) that worked in one place, and implementing those in other places, to scaling the capacity for learning and innovation itself. “What works” is actually the capacity for learning and experimentation in each place, so that is what must be scaled.
We need to develop the preconditions for innovation and allow for collaborative communities to share and adapt new methods. As with the students, help teachers to learn how to innovate and experiment, offer spaces for collaboration and exchange of experience and support their processes. From magic solutions to meaningful processes. 

Another area that he discusses is the prevailing obsession with accountability with all the efficiency reviews and checklists that so many institutions and individuals feel trapped in. This box-ticking mentality leads to a fear of falling lower in the various rankings that seem to define today's education systems. Self assessment can easily lead to self deception as you become increasingly under pressure to tick the right boxes in your quality review.
The research evidence, together with vivid personal accounts, show that target-based performance management approaches undermine real-world performance by creating the conditions in which people systematically lie to one another. Olli-Pekka's experience is that “payment by results” and other forms of results based management undermine the capacity to do effective work and gets in the way of learning. “We should rebuild the performance management system entirely”, says Olli-Pekka.
Once again he advocates helping institutions to build capacity and focus on development than imposing criteria from above. It sounds so obvious but sadly so few governments seem to understand and instead treat education like an industry that can be planned and controlled. We can do so much better.

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