Tag Archives: learning engagement

How to enjoy learning?

25 Jul

In the beginning of our lives, we all love to learn! Anyone, who has been with preschoolers, knows how excited they are about learning new things. Observing high school students or people in Professional Development – well, not so much visible enjoyment there. Why? What went wrong?

Learning is a survival skill we all are born with. But at school we often turn the intrinsic learning (and learning interest) around to something else, something measurable – schooling, or being taught. At worst, schooling kills the intrinsic interest to learning because we figure out that we are doing things wrong while learning on our own. In most cases it just decreases our learning enjoyment and makes us go through the motions and activities for an external reward – for a grade or diploma. However, there are different, better ways to support learning and engagement than grades and diplomas.

First – we must find again our own learning enjoyment as educators. A teacher who is not interested in learning should seek different employment. I know this is very strong statement, but it is not easy to fake something as fundamental as one’s desire to learn. Emphasizing anything else but learning is a mistake when we want to improve education – yet many school improvement plans focus on student “achievement” or “performance”, which are very different because they are snapshots of what a student knows or can do at a single point of time. A test score cannot even pinpoint where in the learning process the “magic” happened. My dear visitor, I am assuming that you are reading this because you are ready to engage in your own learning process and want to learn something new.

Second – let’s agree that learning happens everywhere, not only at school. Anything can be learning experience when we have the mindset and dispositions that support life-long learning, which should be the main outcome of an educational system (and it is often mentioned in missions and value statements). However, students’ everyday experiences are not about engaging their own learning process – mostly they are just trying to assimilate tons of information, which is very hard without a meaningful learning context, and easily leads to surface or strategic learning approach. We must help students to learn on their own! This is one example how to do it: Pre-school/kindergarten in Finland is dedicated to learning how to learn (instead of learning reading and math). The Finnish curriculum highlights interactions, meaningfulness and joy of learning:

Answers were sought to the question on how to best promote learning.

The active involvement of pupils, meaningfulness, joy of learning and school cultures

that promote enriching interaction between pupils and teachers are at the core of the new curriculum.

Finnish National Core Curriculum.

As educators we must support students’ holistic learning. Reminding students and parents that learning can happen anywhere and finding ways to integrate students individual learning experiences as parts of their formal learning portfolio is a great start towards increasing learning enjoyment. (The same principle obviously applies to educators’ Professional Learning – which is often better than Professional Development!)

Third – we must strive to make learning more meaningful for students. This is a hard one, because we all are so different. One size just cannot fit all! Therefore, offering choice for obtaining information and demonstrating competency/mastery is crucially important. We do this while differentiating instruction, but often forget (or don’t have time) to include students’ insight of their learning preferences into improving their learning experiences. Yet, in order for learning to be meaningful, students must have a part in the learning design process. This is not a new idea, there is more than 100 years of research about benefits of learner-centered approach and treating learners as co-creators and partners in the teaching and learning process [1](lots of familiar names there: Dewey, Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky, Rogers among others).  APA – American Psychological Association has emphasized the importance of meaningful learning since 1990 by highlighting the learner-centered approach and 2015 updating the approach to Top 20 principles for PreK-12 education. I wish every teacher had a copy of these documents!

Bottom line: We can and must support students’ learning enjoyment as well as enjoy our own learning experiences!

We have many choices for doing this. The following blog posts are helpful :

Learner-centered education

Is learning a product or process?

Engaging student in their own learning process

Choosing How to Teach

References:

[1]  Summarized from the APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: Guidelines for school reform and redesign. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.  http://www.jodypaul.com/lct/lct.psychprinc.html  and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student-centered_learning

Engaging students in learning, not just schooling

9 Sep

Learning is such a fascinating thing! It happens everywhere, all the time, but in the school settings we are trying to somehow box it in, so that the objectives are met and standards covered. Yet, despite of the standardized approach, each and every student has a different experience of the very same class or lesson.

In any given lesson or class, some students are engaged in their own learning process because they are inherently interested in the topic.  Other students may just be attending to get it over with. These are the students we are losing, because they are only engaging in their schooling, not in their personal learning. The biggest question is: how to help all students to engage in their own learning?  One obvious answer is to make learning more personally enjoyable. Individual instruction is inclusive by its nature, and built from appreciation for diverse identities, dispositions, values, attitudes and skills. Finding space for all these in the classroom is challenging! But one size can never fit all! Providing choices for students is an excellent tool for emphasizing the learning process, because it allows students to apply their personal preferences, which most likely results in increased interest in the activity at hands.

The learning process has two components that must be integrated for deep learning to happen: interaction (with the materials and peers) and elaboration of the content [1].  A successful integration of content and interaction leads to personal construction of understanding, i.e. deep learning, because the student has situated the new knowledge into her/his existing understanding.  Another student, who is just engaged in schooling not learning, may miss out the both components, and just be physically present in the classroom while being mentally and emotionally elsewhere. Yet in today’s world, more than ever before, we must help students to become lifelong learners, who learn because they can and want to, not because someone tells them to do so.

Here is a list of 15 steps to cultivate lifelong learning in our own lives. As teachers we of course want to walk our talk. Right? So keeping on learning and checking our assumptions are very inmportant daily activities! They are also part of the SEL – Social Emotional Learning. Read more about it here:  CASEL 

In addition to the two components of learning process (interaction and elaboration), we also want to think about the dimensions of cognition, emotion and environment [2], because they create the frames of each individual learning experience.  In school settings the focus of learning is too often very narrow, and only aims to transfer the content knowledge. But the way we acquire the content  has a straightforward effect on how durable the resulted learning is. Shallow learning aims to passing the class or just getting out of it. Deep learning aims for understanding, and using the learned content in the future. What is problematic, is strategic learning, which aims to have good grades, without any interest in the content itself. This creates the phenomenon we know as summer learning loss.

My own application of this learning theory is to use the 3Cs that help students to engage in their own learning. Students’ learning motivation is based on their perceptions of learning and education in general, so it would be very shortsighted to aim for plain knowledge acquisition, and only focus on one of the three dimensions of learning.  The successful learning motivation seems to require all three dimensions: cognition, emotion and environment.

3C-framework is built on cooperation, and uses constructive and cognitive instructional approaches.

Cooperative foundation – to create the learning environment and guide students’ behaviors, discuss the classroom management decisions and help students engage in meeting their learning goals.  Every child is born with the intrinsic need to make sense of the world. This is why students WANT to learn even though they don’t know what they should learn. We have a better idea what they need, which is why we use curriculum, to have meaningful entities for explorations.

Constructive tools – to focus on supporting students’ learning process and create the real-life connections needed for deeper learning. This also helps learning  to become more meaningful and increases students’ motivation to learn the information we are offering. Remember to emphasize knowledge to be something that is internally constructed and situated in one’s existing knowledge structure. Students’ self-awareness (one of the SEL competencies) is an important part of their knowledge construction!

Cognitive approach – to create the foundation for deeper learning because students’ thinking needs to change – not just their behaviour. Metacognition is an integral part of learning. As teachers we also want to engage in modeling learning, so discussing our own thinking, learning experiences and struggles are important parts of building that sense of neverending learning.

As a teacher trainer I have discussions with my students about their own motivation to learn. For adults it of course is also related to external rewards – usually masters degree gives a nice increase in the salary.   But most of my teachers really want to learn more about learning and teaching. I believe that as professional educators we recognize the need to support personalized learning in the classroom.

[1] Illeris, K. (2004). Transformative learning in the perspective of a comprehensive learning theory. Journal of Transformative Education2(2), 79-89.

[2] Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2009). Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists… in their own words. Routledge.