So what do we meaning by 'Learning'?
This question that has been researched for many years in the field of education. The school...
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7 July 2010
This question that has been researched for many years in the field of education. The school systems that sprung up in the early part of the twentieth century were not underpinned by research into how people learn but by ‘commonsense assumptions that had never been tested scientifically (Sawyer, 2006, p. 1). These assumptions were based upon what Papert (1993) characterised as instructionist approaches to learning. These can be summarised as:-
- Knowledge is a collection of facts and procedures
- The goal of school was to get the facts and procedures into learners’ heads
- Teachers’ jobs were to transmit the facts and procedures to learners
- Simple facts and procedures are to be learned first followed by more complex ones; sequencing of these was determined by teachers, authors, or professionals in the field
- Successful learning was determined by testing learners on how many of these they had acquired
(see Sawyer, 2006, p.1, for a full description)
Research into learning did not begin until the instructionist model was well established. Around the 1980s it became recognised that learners could generalise their learning and apply it to a greater range of contexts when they engaged in learning the concepts rather than memorising facts and procedures (Entwistle & Ramsden, 1983; Marton & Säljö, 1976; Sawyer, 2006; Richardson, 2000). The United States National Research Council (see Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) reached a consensus that instructionism was flawed and that a deeper conceptual understanding enabled the learning of facts and procedures in a more useful way that allowed better generalisation and transfer to greater range of contexts. Although research into learning was happened in different traditions an overarching principle emerged: learning is a deeper conceptual understanding characterised by qualitative changes in the learner. Papert (1993) recognised the failures of the educational system and argued for a shift from instructionist approaches to constructionist approaches that allowed children to develop their own knowledge through the act of constructing. He argues that the "the goal is to teach in such a way as to produce the most learning for the least teaching" (p.139).
This failure in the general approach to education is not restricted to primary and secondary education; it is also a failing of higher education too. Differences between what is ‘taught’ by teachers and what is ‘learned’ by students are acknowledged (Snyder, 1971) illustrating further the failings of instructionist approaches. The memorisation of facts and figures is ill-matched to the needs of a knowledge-based economy (Bereiter, 2002; Hargreaves, 2003). The demands of westernised economies require learners to act as professionals, able to construct new knowledge and ideas and take responsibility for their own continual learning during their lifetime (Sawyer, 2006; Sharples, 2000). The challenge for learners has shifted from being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find it and use it appropriately (Bransford et al., 2000) and our goal as educators is support them in that task. Unfortunately, learning in higher education is rarely evaluated in terms of qualitative changes in individual learners.