“If there’s a new way, I’ll be the first in line. But it better work this time.”
– Dave Mustaine: Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying?
Many educators are calling for a new type of education. One that is more fluid, open, self-guided. The argument is that humans are social creatures that naturally want to learn. So just set them free and they will learn like crazy.
Some go so far as to come up with titles like EduPunk and Anti-Teacher. They want to do away with everything from Learning Management Systems to semester-based systems to Universities all together. They are doing some great thinking, blogging, and boundary-expanding.
But can I just say one thing: Whoah! Baby and bathwater anyone?
It seems like to me that most of these people are those that grew up in a really traditional school that really quashed all questions and free-thinking (or, at least, they came to work in one at some time). Think Dead Poet’s Society for an example. So I can understand where they are coming from.
Of course, those of us that actually came from this open, fluid, self-directed education will usually tell you “ummm…. sorry… it doesn’t quite work either. Close – but still needs some work”
I was a “Gifted & Talented” kid – I’m not sure what it is now called. I was even in a GT class in High School – right after Algebra, English II, and Biology II. The goal of that was to give the really motivated learners the freedom to create their own learning in an environment that was free of traditional learning constraints. They tried two six-week sessions of experimental learning that usually descended in to us just goofing off and chatting. Then it was decided that they were still putting too many “conditions” and “guidelines” on us and that we should create our own curriculum for a six week period. All kinds of interesting ideas were placed before us – but then one student said “hey – can we watch movies for the whole six weeks?” That idea won the classes vote by 100%. The teacher decided to step in and say that we at least had to come up with educationally-based movies. So we did – it is surprising how educational “The Abyss”, “Lion King” and “Silence of the Lambs” can become when you put your teen-age mind to it :)
After that, they redesigned it and it became a great class. Oh yeah – we learned many things from those movies. Stuff I never used for the rest of my life except to maybe win a pink pie piece in Trivial Pursuit.
I am not linking to any posts or blogs about this issue because I don’t necessarily disagree with any one of these people. They have great ideas and some great thinking. I also think they need to realize that much of this has already been tried before to some degree – so don’t repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past (Montessori schools, anyone?). Also, please don’t make the mistake that just because things are bad in your (relatively little no matter who you are) corner of the world, that they are the same everywhere else. They aren’t.
To me, the best way to learn is still guided social constructivism, where learning is constructed for others while guided by a teacher or expert that keeps you on track while allowing you to learn. The important part is that the learner constructs knowledge for others. Self-paced learning is too self-focused and studies have proven that people will lose interest in anything if they just keep doing it for themselves. You have to have a grand picture of why you are doing something or you lose focus. “Without vision, the people will perish” is as true now as it was when that proverb was first written. If we are not careful, we will just have a repeat of the self-focused, self-loathing grunge movement hitting us again. Am I seriously the only person that has noticed the rise of grunge music coinciding with the first wave of self-guided learning?
EDIT: Please carefully read this post before posting knee-jerk comments. I don’t say GT, Montessori, or any of the ideas that I examine here or the people that believe them are bad or wrong. Read carefully, please. And, if you don’t know this already, the Montessori movement itself has been very open about the mistakes they have made through the years. I’m referring to the mistakes that they say they have made, not the whole movement itself (although there are many that would dismiss the whole movement).
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.