Light Offerings

Learning How to Learn (aLearning + cLearning + sLearning + dLearning)

Posted by jturner56 on July 19, 2015

How did you spend your summer break (if you were fortunate enough to be in the education business)?

Apart from soaking up the fine produce of Tasmania and the fine Melbourne football, I sought out the question: what is learning how to learn?

It led me to a MOOC – Learning How to Learn – out of The University of California in San Diego, led by Dr Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering, Industrial & Systems Engineering, Oakland University, and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, University of California, San Diego.

My interest was twofold; (1) to hopefully progress my understanding of learning needs, and (2) to better understand the MOOC teaching and learning constructs.

Perhaps the first piece of advice is to always take note of the full title. In this case it was Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects, aligned to the book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) It turned out to be more about study techniques for formal education, with supportive links from neuroscience. As a study preparation course for individuals it had merit. Its boundaries around formal knowledge acquisition and commitment to traditional expectations were clear.

But it did provide some thoughtful insights. As part of the MOOC a response is required to develop one’s OWN learning module covering at least three (3) major concepts/ideas covered in this course. As someone more interested in investigation over transmission I look instead at question arising and avenues for further inquiry.

  1. The course, reinforced by neuroscience and/or cognitive science research, reinforced many known positive for learning
    1. importance of diffuse thinking opportunities to embed (as distinct from focused learning when adding new knowledge)
    2. the importance of sleep and exercise
    3. use of metaphors and analogies to aid understanding
    4. techniques to help overcome procrastination
    5. focusing on process over product
    6. spaced repetition for strengthening memory transferral
    7. recall study approaches (in preference to re-reading and highlighting)
    8. preferred Group study and test preparation techniques (such as checklists, team checking, as well as stress and question management)
    9. importance of perseverance
      • all of which will be something to take back to see if the school is adequately helping students understand the benefits of such approaches.
  2. The course was a bit light on in the dangers of subject concept development *(although it called for learner questioning “until sure”). The dangers of “checkbox learning” and its short term way forward for longer term shortcomings. A good example is provided by Richard Skemp (1987) in The Psychology of Learning Mathematics who quotes Whitney (1985) “we try to cure symptoms in place of finding the underlying disease, and we focus on the passing of test instead of meaningful goals.” (p3) The critical importance of good teaching is clearly supported here.
  3. Which brings us to the boundaries. What is apparent is that the MOOC deals with academic learning (aLearning), formal learning viewed through traditional assessment practices. It is clinical and conservative. Interestingly it highlights through ignoring learning such as cLearning (reflecting the hyperconnected world we all swim in, bringing new collaborative, cultural, citizenship, creative and choice dynamics that are defined by what can be and is constructed around the question “what can you do with that learning?”), sLearning (for social learning, reflecting the relationships between people that support learning) and dLearning (digital learning that brings with it new dynamics in information, media and communication). To be fair, they are all touched on, but only in a secondary way. aLearning, cLearning, sLearning and dLearning form and interlocking 3-D Venn Diagrams that warrants more closer consideration than what aLearning is limited to.

A good wrapping up statement, “we’re learned from you as you have learned from us,” encapsulates the two way nature of learning. We may well need to take responsibility for our learning, but this is only part of the wider social interactions (digital / physical) in play. How schools take on this is how they will defined moving forward. Defined by the questions:

What is valued?

– in what ways?

– to what ends?

Good learning (and teaching) one and all for the coming school year.


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