Two Questions About Learning

This past week, I received an email from a fellow faculty member at the school where I work. The opening was great…her daughter, who was once in my class, wanted to say hello. 🙂 I love that. Doesn’t get any better than hearing from former students…even if it is just a hello. Then, my colleague asked me two questions…and they’re quite vast in their scope. I’d like to answer her questions below and then ask for your opinion on this. The way I see it, the more opinions she can have on these questions, the better. So, here are the questions:

What do you feel is the most problematic matter with student learning? Why?

It really is quite difficult to narrow it down to just one aspect of student learning…but I’ll try my best, knowing that mentioning one facet of learning surely involves numerous other points. Going with my usual cognitive psychology slant (bias), I believe the most problematic matter with student learning to be the lack of understanding by students and teachers of just what learning is, how/when to assess it, and how best to use what we know about human memory to tailor learning experiences. It would be interesting to question teachers about their knowledge of short-term and long-term memory; and if the limitations of memory are taken into consideration when planning lessons, designing the classroom, and assessing students. I don’t believe many earnestly do this.

For me, this information represents one of the largest holes in most teacher training programs. It is quite simple. If our job is to teach students, to provide instruction for learning, how can we not be aware of the processes that involve the remembering of that material? And then, how can we not utilize that information to best structure our physical classroom environment and the manner in which we instruct our students? It almost seems like malpractice to me. How did I not have a class on this information while earning my Master’s in secondary education? Why have I never received any professional learning on this essential topic? Following this train of thought, if I, the teacher, don’t have an understanding of human memory, what are the chances my students have encountered this information before? Very low, right? I cannot expect them to utilize more efficient and effective study habits in class and at home if I don’t even know what learning/studying should resemble. This seems quite problematic.

Do you think that online learning is an advantage or disadvantage? Why?

Well, it really depends on the student. It generally requires a mature student who has proper study habits (per my answer above…I have my doubts) and is willing to put in the work. I am not someone who believes no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. I also don’t believe that students don’t care what I know until they know that I care (Yes, I do care for my students a great deal…calm down…I just know that relationship is necessary for learning). So, the lack of human interaction doesn’t really bother me too much…again, as long as the learner is mature enough to do the work on their own. In some aspects, online learning might actually allow students to avoid many needless distractions that may be present in the classroom and allow them the opportunity and time to really think about information presented online. 

There are, obviously, many more questions to be answered about online learning…what learning management system are you using? How is your teacher getting the information to you? How are you being assessed? All of these questions need to be answered, surely, but I believe student maturity bests them in importance for success in the online learning environment. 

So, those are my answers. What are your answers? Please leave a comment below answering one or both of these important questions. My colleague and I would love to know others’ perspectives.

9 thoughts on “Two Questions About Learning

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  1. At Kinephonics, students (and teachers) are now generating real evidence of learning behaviours in the context of Language Learning. Students (and teachers) can watch themselves as they stumble and lose control of their behaviour; stop and fix the behaviour; experiment with an alternate behaviour and accept the satisfaction of the successful behaviour. This is learning and the knowledge of this learning process is going to allow students (and teachers) to replicate learning in different contexts for the rest of their lives.

  2. At the EARLI conference in Aachen this summer several presentations discussed whether children learn more online or not. Research shows better learning from pen and paper but students think they learn more from using a computer. This is their perception but not the reality.
    I raised the point about kids being online in class but having to take high stakes tests (uk) with pen and paper.
    One comment said the future is definitely on line but that this learning needs to be supported with carefully thought through pre tasks and through and post tasks – kids need a bleary structure if using computers,

  3. I think the biggest problem is the difference between performance and learning as discussed by Soderstrom and Bjork. Many teachers are not aware of this and so students do not know. Just because you can do it in class does not mean you have learned it. That is quite a paradigm shift.

    In terms of online learning, I think there are advantages. I ran a flipped classroom a couple of years back and it worked very well. But that was with a top set who were very interested in the subject. My feeling is that relying on online learning platforms would widen the achievement gap, as those with lots of prior knowledge would be fine, but those lacking the prior knowledge would be unable to cope and hence fall further behind their peers.

  4. 1. The first and the foremost is the student interest in the topic and to make all the students attentive is very difficult for the Lecturer.
    2. Online learning is an advantage for the students as they can learn when they are interested. It is not like forcing them to attend at this particular time.

  5. The problem with online learning is that students can develop conceptual problems that are close enough to being right to answer many questions correctly, but aren’t right enough to master a subject. Only a real, live teacher can sniff out that sort of thing. Correcting those conceptual issues after they’ve been integrated into one’s thinking is extremely difficult.

  6. Most problematic matter: I think the ultimate problem in education is motivation. I have thought that since I was a new educator and thought about my practice at the time and my personal experience as a student. Students like me who have a love of learning that was fostered by two successful college educated adults made school a real training ground where I knew that I could and therefore would succeed because I knew that the path was achievable. When I see my students who are unmotivated for the many reasons that exist out there (lack of human or monetary capital to rely on especially) then I am rocked to my core wondering why our society won’t spend more of its capital making it happen. I see former students around town who took many college prep/ap classes who are now waiting tables, embarrassed to speak to me because they are not following the dreams that they had when I taught them. But how can they if they don’t have the same resources that I did when I went though.

    Online learning: I see this being an advantage in our world only for two reasons: first if you are geographically isolated then it may be a person’s only option for education. I have always lived and worked in the west and had I been able to access online degrees earlier in my career then I would possibly be farther along than I am now. I once mentored a student teacher who had been an air force officer and it was her path into education. She participated in an excellent program that required people to speak and interact with others. She is today an excellent teacher. The other reason is if people need either a more self-paced program or cannot for some reason be around other people it is an option.

    That said, when it comes to people getting education in professions or careers that require some interaction with other people then those programs may be fools gold. I have sat in too many interviews with minimally qualified individuals who really should have been required to experience more human interaction during their program. I think that without the human interaction component most programs will not produce good results.

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