CCK09 To teach, or not to teach; to learn, or not to learn

This is my response to the Moodle Forum post on How about teaching?

The “class” is the “teacher”, every one in the “class” could be the teacher.  We observe others teaching each other, and that’s how we learn.  And when we could observe, reflect, practice (learn and teach, and teach and learn), and reflect individually and/or collectively, then through such cycle of learning, we could even learn better – the ontological reflective learning approach.

Not every one can teach – to the level expected by the “experts” or “education standards” required by the education authority, especially when we are relating to formal education and structured learning.  Why?  Because “expert” teaching requires a wide range of competencies that may take years to develop.  We may not need to be an expert teacher, though some of us may aspire to.

 When we observe someone teaching in a “superb” manner, we may have a number of reactions:

(a) I could do that (the zone of proximal development)

(b) I could do that in a much better way

(c) I couldn’t do that

(d) I don’t think that is a good way of teaching, it is not……

(e) I would never do that, because….

When we observe someone teaching in a “poor” manner, we may also have a number of reactions:

(a) I could do that, that’s so easy(the zone of proximal development???) – what a laugh!

(b) I could do that in a much better way

(c) I wouldn’t do that

(d) I don’t think that is a good way of teaching, it is not……

(e) I would never do that, because….

So, in a classroom environment, teaching others could be ‘VERY VERY DIFFICULT” if we don’t know what the learners need and want.  In a class of thirty or forty learners, not every learner is ready to learn, or interested in learning.

Could we redefine the “class” to include informal classes, unclasses, community, networks, and groups where artifacts and people interact and see what happens?

Teaching oneself could be much, much easier then if we open up ourselves to learn. You just need to observe, listen, and see what the “teacher” is doing (through his/her demonstrating, modelling), ask  questions to clarify or respond to questions to confirm your understanding, in and out of the class. 

One could ask why the “class” or the “teacher” has taught it this way and not that way under a particular context, and/or under a particular “class” environment.  So “class” has only got boundary for the teachers, but not necessarily for the learners.  Whilst in “class”, a learner could “dream” elsewhere, and learn through those dreams too, though that may or may not lead to effective learning. 

“Maybe we need a new term for this. Call it the “Zone of Possible Development”. Let it represent the learning that could have taken place, but didn’t, because of the attempts of educators to ‘provide learning’.

I’m sure millions of students sitting in classrooms waiting for the teacher to say something interesting will know exactly what I mean my this concept. In my view, at least (speaking as one who supplemented his Zone of Possible Development with a Zone of Personal Development – the amount of extra learning I obtained by ignoring the teacher and the class and instead reading a book hidden under my desk).” Stephen Downes writes in the post on forum

Stephen’s example of a learner reading a book under a desk in a class instead of listening to the teacher hinted me to ask:

(1) Why was the student not listening to the teacher? 

(2) Was the topic boring?

(3) Was the teacher incapable of teaching?

(4) Was the teaching engaging the students?  Was it geared to the interests of the students?

(5) Was the teaching method appropriate?

There are a lot of  assumptions here, and we can’t conclude whether it’s the “failure of the teacher” or the “failure of the learning environment” or the “failure of the learner” that accounts for the “apparent students’ lack of attention” or “apparent failure of learning” as may be perceived by the teacher.  

At the end, if the students have learnt something or have learnt something so much better through self study (of the book) rather than listening to the teacher, then we need to understand what might be behind the problem here. 

This is analogous to the situation when learners are using Personal Learning Environment (PLE) or Personal Learning Network (PLN) instead of attending to the formal Learning Management System (LMS) or the formal class lecture in their “formal” learning.

So, everyone can learn.  In a “classroom” situation, we need to distinguish learners based on their degree of development and maturity. 

For young kids, the traditional classroom is the safe haven for learning, and so all stakeholders (the principal, the parents, the education authority, and the community) would be expecting such formal “classroom” to be conducive to “learning”.  Formal education needs to ensure that learning be geared to the learners’ and societal needs, and that teaching and learning is conducted in a safe environment, as that would be the expectation of both the educators, learners and the stakeholders.  We may argue that the learners may be too young to decide on what, how to learn, and so the teacher would need to guide the learners in the learning process.  However, once the learners have mastered the “basic” skills of learning, it is imperative to provide opportunities for such learners to be exposed to a broader learning community or ecology, so they would be better prepared for the new challenges when they advance to senior years of studies or when they join work in society.

For adult learners, the situation is totally different. 

Metaphor: Learning is like the growth of a plant.

plant market 515933682_914f4ac8f2_mlonely tree with clouds 470999251_64eb4aabfa_m

Take a look at how a plant grows.  It starts off with the seeds, then the roots, the stem, the branches, then the leaves, the flowers…  It requires nutrients, water, sunshine, and adequate environment – temperature, humidity and soil.  Its growth would be dependent on whether it could survive through the stormy weathers, its nurturing by “nature” and its “capacity” to withstand any destruction due “predators” such as weeds, animals, or human.

A further metaphor is: learning is like fishing.  Everyone could “fish”, and teachers and learners are like fishermen and fisherwomen.  Give a fish to a person a day, and the person would benefit for that day (only).  But teaching a person how, where and what to fish, the person would benefit from the teaching for the whole life time.  So, instead of telling them how to fish, see what happens below:

 mullett fishing 224825732_8791116972_mLittle Fishing 188020609_6d4d761835_m

 In this Learning Ecology, Communities, and Networks, George writes:

Variety is a central requirement for learning. There are certainly times where formal, structured courses are required. Some times the knowledge requirements are such that the course model is best – if learning needs have a start and an end. In other cases, learning needs are complex…and difficult to anticipate. The more complex the learning needs, and the more quickly the field of knowledge evolves, the more valuable a learning community and network becomes.

The task of managers, administrators, and Instructors is to create the ecology, shape the communities, and release learners into this environment. Segments of the community can bring in other members (potential employers, graduates) allowing them to grow and learn with existing learners. Through the process, each learner is connected to a network allowing for life-long learning and the ability to care for their own learning needs in the future.

So, it is desirable to extend learning beyond classroom for adult learners. 

May be, the challenge is: Is the ecology conducive to the learning for ALL teen and adult learners?  Will there be any transitional period for such learning be shifted from classroom to networks?  What are the implications of such shift (paradigm shift in learning - from formal education to informal learning in networks) to the educators, learners, institutions, and society?

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7 thoughts on “CCK09 To teach, or not to teach; to learn, or not to learn

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