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Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Note: This is the final article of a three-part series on a new theory for invisible learning.

The Theory for Invisible Learning is that we learn more, and do so invisibly, when we separate structures of control that restrict freedom and self-determination from learning experiences.

Invisible learning can emerge in many ways, and often manifests through bits and pieces here and there. The examples of approaches to invisible learning provided here are not exhaustive, and are meant to be illustrative only. Each of these approaches embrace participation, play, and exploration.

Schools for invisible learning

Democratic education schools are arguably the most visible examples of enabling self-determination. From the 2005 EUDEC guidance document, students in democratic schools have the right:

to make their own choices regarding learning and all other areas of everyday life. In particular, they may individually determine what to do, when, where, how and with whom, so long as their decisions do not infringe on the liberty of others to do the same.

Sudbury-type schools embrace this principle at their core, providing each student an equal voice and vote along side staff members and other stakeholders as to what they learn and how their schools are run. Students spend their time together without age or grade separation and they decide how to spend their time at the school. Central to the school’s operation are school meetings in which students and staff members make key decisions in a process focused on participatory democracy. In these schools, students are afforded tremendous freedom together with the personal and collective responsibility to make the best decisions possible.

These schools are part of a broader category of free schools which developed over the past century, with many approaches that interpret “free” schooling differently. Some operate as full democracies, and others as anarchist collectives. Of particular importance is the Summerhill School (UK), which permits each student to develop their own lesson plans within a structured timetable. Students have the freedom to pursue their own learning interests, based on offerings, and like the Sudbury model, they operate within a framework of participatory democracy with shared responsibilities.

There is very little research on democratic and free schools compared to mainstream education, but my hunch is they best serve students of at least middle-class or better-educated families, where students have greater flexibility and support to pursue their own interests. For students in economically disadvantaged families, we can look into liberation pedagogies such as critical pedagogy, eco schools, and praxis-type schools as pathways. While their foci are often connected with particular ideologies, they share core themes of socioeconomic liberation for students and the communities in which they live.

Finally, youth organizations and community participation opportunities that exist, often connected to formal schools, provide pathways toward invisible learning. Most often, we see this through scouting, clubs, and extension programs where students are not evaluated on a rigorous program, but instead earn badges, develop creative products, and create community-relevant outcomes that are based on their own interests.

Free play and exploration

Free play is a natural human activity where invisible learning flourishes. Through play, children discover their interests and aptitudes. Play inspires curiosity to test boundaries and learn social rules and norms, together with the development of many soft skills. Unfortunately, mainstream approaches to education ignore or underplay its importance in learning. Psychologist Peter Gray defines play as:

“first and foremost, self-chosen and self-directed. Players choose freely whether or not to play, make and change the rules as they go along, and are always free to quit. Second, play is intrinsically motivated; that is, it is done for its own sake, not for external rewards such as trophies, improved résumés, or praise from parents or other adults. Third, play is guided by mental rules (which provide structure to the activity), but the rules always leave room for creativity. Fourth, play is imaginative; that is, it is seen by the players as in some sense not real, separate from the serious world. And last, play is conducted in an alert, active, but relatively unstressed frame of mind” (from an interview in Journal of Play, Spring 2013).

Play is separate from sports and other organized activities in that it is explorative and satisfies an individual’s curiosity to try new ideas or simulate different possibilities in the world. Through play, a learner’s environment becomes his or her laboratory. This satisfaction of curiosity encourages the development of auto-didacticism, the practice of learning by one’s self.

Similar to free play is free exploration within our own communities and beyond to learn from others. What happens, for example, when children explore a culture beyond their own? What do they discover? How does it change them? What skills, competencies, or insights might they develop? Many of the answers to these questions are difficult to quantify or measure, but research suggests they can be related through the development of soft skills (i.e., intercultural competence, capabilities to handle ambiguity, empathy), which are critical outputs of invisible learning. This is learning beyond codifiable curricula, and places trust in kids that they can develop their own skills.

Building cultures of trust

To break free from the structures of control, we need to build cultures of trust. We need to trust children to learn without being told what to learn. Democracies are built on trust and shared responsibility. Free play and exploration are built on trusting others to help us learn from each other.

Teachers and school leaders have many opportunities to develop pathways toward invisible learning through participation, play, and exploration. These can be realized through their own development and praxis as well as through their work with students. But, the bottom line is enabling invisible learning is centered on trust, and trusting that children always learn — no matter what. As we wrote in Manifesto 15:

“The thrill of jumping off a cliff by deciding to do so yourself is a high you will never have if someone else pushes you off of it. In other words, the top-down, teacher-student model of learning does not maximize learning as it devours curiosity and eliminates intrinsic motivation. We need to embrace flat, horizontalized, and distributed approaches to learning, including peer learning and peer teaching, and empower students to realize the authentic practice of these modes. Educators must create space to allow students to determine if, and when, to jump off the cliff. Failing is a natural part of learning where we can always try again. In a flat learning environment, the teacher’s role is to help make sure the learner makes a well-balanced decision. Failing is okay, but the creation of failures is not.”


Posts in this series

  1. The need for invisible learning
  2. A theory for invisible learning
  3. Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Three alternatives to temponormative pedagogy

When most people mention the word “pedagogy,” they are likely to think of it within a temponormative framework. It is a framework that embraces linear time and Cartesian thinking. This continues to be the most prevalent framework within Western educational contexts. A linear conceptualization of time ensures that the learning process has a beginning and an end, with predictable (and measurable) waypoints between. The causal linearity of the temponormative frame allows for the developmental procession of teaching and learning that is often best suited for transmitting explicit knowledge to learners.

The temponormative approach has worked well in the industrial era, but afforded the purposive use of technologies, can we break away from this old framework to one that is organic and synergetic, rather than mechanical — one that supports the creation of knowledge workers and innovators over factory automatons? Pekka Ihanainen (at HAAGA-HELIA and Ihanova) and I think we can. To start the discussion, in a paper we submitted for a special issue of time in Studia Paedagogica, we propose three alternatives to break us away from temponormative pedagogies: pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping. The following text is excerpted and adapted from the paper.

Pointillist learning

Elements for pointillist learning are masses of fragments and pieces – i.e., as used within Twitter messaging. They transmit, separately, beginnings for events, middle-points of events and endings of events in an order that may seem perceptibly vague. Among others, they comprise experiences, opinions, perceptions, comments, and “what if” scenarios.

The spontaneous nature of pointillist learning has always been a natural part of everyday human activity. When pointillist learning is examined from a pedagogical point of view, it opens itself as an anti- or a de-pedagogy. The greatest challenge for de-pedagogy is that we must trust that learning actually takes place, and that de-pedagogical learning is both valuable and significant. For pedagogical activity, de-pedagogy means that, as facilitators of learning, we have to give up our role as teachers and to start being and working as co-learners and peers within the pointillist environments we are involved.

Cyclical learning

In online forums, where participation (usually discussion) occurs within threads as a more or less dialogical activity, densification and diffusion of learning intensity are present to experience and take part in. The cyclical activity and learning is connected with an ability to observe intensive periods of online interaction and to join them. New competencies emerge in the perception of pulses from within emerging processes of thoughts, emotions, and understandings (among others). Often times, people wish to continue their explorations and re-understandings of pointillist events and contextualize the knowledge to better suit their own needs and interests. For this reason, we label this phenomena a re-pedagogy.

Overlapping learning

The above three frameworks do not necessarily exist exclusive of each other, but can coexist and overlap within simple or complex relationships. Overlapping may occur as 1) fragments within fragmentary entities; or, 2) waves within pulsating content processes. In regard to the former, for example, it recognizes the ability to move from pointillist activities to cyclical learning and vice versa. In regard to the latter, this includes an ability to construct new insights, conceptualizations, and contextual applications for knowledge given pulsating waves of cyclical, pointillistic and/or temponormative pedagogies. Overlapping pedagogies may be expressed through the overlapping uses of technologies. For example, in online education, microblogging (a pointillist activity) may be layered with intense activity within discussion forums (a cyclical activity).

Overlapping learning is knowledge building of everything/anything, everywhere/anywhere and at all times/anytime. In other words, overlapping learning is boundless in its scope and capabilities. When the learning of everything/anything, everywhere/anywhere and at all times /anytime is examined from pedagogical point of view, it can be seen as pedagogy of encoding. The overlapping education is therefore labeled en-pedagogy.

Temponormative

Pointillist

Cyclical

Overlapping

Pedagogy

Traditional

De-

Re-

En-

System

Cartesian, linear

Moments

Pulsating

Chaordic

Knowledge produced

Explicit

Personal (explicit and tacit)

Personal and social

Personal and social

Learning happens through…

Direction

Serendipity

Evolution of dialog

Convergence of direction, serendipity and evolution

Learning outcomes pre-defined

Yes

No

Sometimes

No

Examples

Lectures, readings

Microblogging, podcast

Online forums

Mashups

Our challenge

The problem is, although we are familiar with many of the technological tools that enable these pedagogies, we still view the process and the experience through the lens of temponormativity. Recognition of this framework with expanded temporal characteristics calls on us to develop new, purposive approaches that embrace and maximize the best of any configuration of de-, re-, and en-pedagogies.

Afforded the post-temponormative capabilities of online environments, how can we best leverage these multidimensional understandings of pedagogical time to facilitate multidimensional learning and meaningful new knowledge production?

Brooks on the "Cognitive Age"

David Brooks wrote an excellent op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. He states that individuals cannot be successful in a globalized world without building advanced capabilities to transform information into meaningful knowledge:

The globalization paradigm leads people to see economic development as a form of foreign policy, as a grand competition between nations and civilizations. These abstractions, called “the Chinese” or “the Indians,” are doing this or that. But the cognitive age paradigm emphasizes psychology, culture and pedagogy — the specific processes that foster learning. It emphasizes that different societies are being stressed in similar ways by increased demands on human capital. If you understand that you are living at the beginning of a cognitive age, you’re focusing on the real source of prosperity and understand that your anxiety is not being caused by a foreigner.

This is one of the few articles in popular media that effectively ties globalization with the need for revolutionizing human capital development. And, it is one of the very few articles that contain the words “globalization” and “pedagogy” together in the same paragraph.

Read the entire article…

free-reading.net

Buzz is starting to appear regarding the MediaWiki-powered free-reading.net. Free-Reading is…

an “open source” instructional program that helps teachers teach early reading. Because it’s open source, it represents the collective wisdom of a wide community of teachers and researchers. It’s designed to contain a scope and sequence of activities that can support and supplement a typical “core” or “basal” program.

Tom Hoffman notes that despite free-reading.net’s quiet launch,

this demonstrates that Wireless Generation is making a serious play. It also underscores a good reason why, as Doug Noon points out, the curriculum hews to the post-NCLB status quo on reading pedagogy.

I agree that the research base on the site is perhaps too centered on behaviorist and education psychology tradition. The curricula, however narrow, remains open –and could serve as another signal of a shift in curricula and textbooks toward open formats…

Online enrollments tapering

Today’s Inside Higher Ed reports on a Sloan Foundation report, “Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning,” that found that although more U.S. students are learning online, the growth trend is tapering off. Nearly 20% of post-secondary students have taken at least one course online.

Four-year growth in students taking at least one online course:

  Enrollment, Fall 2002 Enrollment, Fall 2006 Compound Annual Growth Rate
Doctoral/Research 258,489 566,725 21.7%
Master’s 335,703 686,337 19.6%
Baccalaureate 130,677 170,754 6.9%
Community colleges 806,391 1,904,296 24.0%
Specialized 71,710 160,268 22.3%

Not surprisingly, the largest area of growth was among for-profit institutions, who are more pressured to innovate in education. The question is, is online learning really all that innovative? I think not.

Too often, we use new technologies without adopting new pedagogical models and new, contextually-relevant content. The result is that the new technologies are used to teach the same old garbage. And fail. Perhaps this explains why the penetration of online learning is beginning to taper off at 20%.

New models for learning are needed that properly utilize these technologies. Next week, I’ll present one such option, the “co-seminar” model, that begins to address the problem. Stay tuned!

School's out forever

Will Richardson asks, “is anyone else a bit interested in the fact that one 21,000 student district in the UK has decided to close all of its high schools and open learning centers instead:

In the words of rock legend Alice Cooper’s most famous song, “school’s out forever”. Knowsley Council in Merseyside, which – for years – has languished near or at the bottom of exam league tables, has abolished the use of the word to describe secondary education in the borough. It is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009. As part of a £150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven state-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft – which has already developed links with one school in the borough, Bowring.

The schools are moving from a deficit model of learning (“students can’t do…”) to a “can do” approach that the article claims will create creative students that will be valued by future employers. Operating 24 hours a day, the centers will allow students to explore problems that interest them at their own pace, rather than steering them through inflexible curricula.

This is an important change, as Knowsley Council seems to have figured out that students can get their information from anywhere (electronically, from social interactions, etc.). What’s important is the construction of information into knowledge and the creative use of new knowledge.

Microsoft has so far struck out in its attempts to reform education. Has it finally crafted a hit? This is worth watching…

(Thanks to Scott McLeod for the tip.)

The futures that never happened

A great blog, Paleo-Future, has emerged over the past couple months. The site provides “a look into the future that never was” –often for good reason. Here’s one: Bill Gates’ vision of the future classroom.

Matt writes:

The paleo-future of 1995 is filled with ethnically diverse students academically engaged by the high-tech presentations of their fellow classmates. The teacher brings the class to attention by telling them to “get off the net.” Every child has a diverse array of technology at their disposal. The keyboard Mr. Ballard uses is the most confusing of the supposed advances we see in the video.

Allow me to be more brutal to Mr. Gates’ vision: Why did his future of learning require kids to get off the net before they could start learning? And, why did he suggest that we use technologies to learn the same “download,” non-knowledge-producing garbage that schools have always taught. In a lesson or presentation on Mayan culture, why did he focus on displaying how technologies can be used to portray cultural essentialist “learning” as opposed to real cultural learning through intercultural interactions –perhaps, using cultural simulations?

Bah. Enough of my questions. Visit Matt’s blog. It’s good.

December 12 Horizon Forum recap

At yesterday’s Horizon Forum meeting, Chris Dede delivered a presentation via Skype on using multiple-user virtual environments in educational contexts. These environments, he argues, allows students to co-design and co-instruct their own educational experiences, allowing for guided social constructivism and learning that goes beyond what traditional schools try to accomplish through test-based assessments.

dede.JPG

Scott McLeod continued with a discussion on preparing students for the new millennium rather than the industrial age. With the pace of change accelerating, schools, by design, are not able to keep up with society. Schools are in danger of becoming irrelevant unless if they do away with reactionary, compliance-based management and build future-oriented, proactive (and preactive!) leadership.

horizon-forum.PNG

Finally, with Garth Willis’ help, we experimented with recording the session as a Macromedia Breeze meeting. The recording is available online at: https://breeze5.umn.edu/p44056320/ (sorry, the first twenty minutes of audio are missing).

The next Horizon Forum is scheduled for February 5, 2007, and will focus on advances in innovative learning in Latin America.

Virtual professors?

While the “dot edu” bubble has generated much interested in pedagogical technologies, issues of how the technologies are implemented and integrated into the curriculum typically do not enter the discussion. Poor implementation is perhaps a leading reason for why the dot edu boom has done little to actually improve student learning.

LiveScience.com reports on a new project sponsored by the National Science Foundation:

“Up until now, the personal computer’s potential to be a valuable teaching and learning tool has been stymied by its ‘soulless’ nature,” says Baylor, a professor of instructional systems at Florida State University’s Research of Innovative Technologies for Learning (RITL). “We’re using computers to simulate human beings in a controlled manner so we can investigate how they affect and persuade people.”

Using cognitive and emotional feedback, the researchers are investigating how to better implement technologies for improved student learning. There is hope.

WSJ: Students outsourcing homework

Some U.S. students are taking note of a lesson learned by U.S. corporations and are outsourcing their homework. Lee Gomes at the Wall Street Journal writes:

Rent A Coder enables people — usually Americans — who need computer programs to put them out to bid — usually for cut-throat prices by Indians and Eastern Europeans.

Indeed, some programming students appear to be outsourcing their way through college. “Pascal Rookie,” from Colorado Springs, Colo., has put five school projects to bid. And while he may be a plagiarist, at least he treats his helpers well: Mr. Rookie has received the highest marks possible for a buyer in the eBay-like rating system used by Rent A Coder. “A pleasure to work with him,” said one.

Is the outsourcing of learning another sign that the U.S. is losing its innovation advantage?

More on the “innovation advantage” tomorrow morning…