Sunday, September 9, 2007

Designing Learning Environments

Learning happens within a context for both the facilitator and the learner. Learning is most effective when those contexts align. For example, if the leader and the learner both expect a lecture, the learner will learn more. If the learners expect to be filled with knowledge by leaders, and leaders expect learners to construct their own knowledge there will be a barrier preventing a flow of knowledge. I have discussed with each of my ten classes that I do not fill them with knowledge, that they are not empty vessels, they must develop digital skills with some effort on their part. They are being prepared to enter a global conversation, to compete with graduates in other nations, and to comprehend complex software.

Learners often drag into carefully planned environments their own baggage. This baggage affects their ability to learn despite best laid plans. Knowledge does not exist within a vacuum, but all knowledge is contextual. Setting the stage, activating prior knowledge, using anticipatory sets is vital to helping learners connect new information to knowledge already within their brains. Sticky nodes are great places to stick new knowledge. There will always be excess baggage which learning environment developers need to deal.

Teachers are more co-learners, mentors, leaders. A familiar metaphor is leaders most effective when they are guides on the side instead of the sage on the stage. Learners are the focus of the learning environment and are in the center of the learning experience. Leaders motivate the team effort, lead a crowd, point the way. Leaders are taking on a new role as educational paradigms shift.

Focusing on following my own advice is a great first step for me. As I attempt to motivate each class to expect something different from me than the sage, I am mostly successful. It would appear that I have failed with those who carry the most baggage into the learning environment. The contexts are not aligning. It is interesting that I have been most successful with the class of 2012 and below, not with those upper classes. Is anyone else experiencing this?

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