Learning and Its Future

Sir Ken Robinson in his book, Creative Schools says: 

Learning is the process of acquiring new knowledge and skills. Human beings are highly curious learning organisms. From the moment they’re born, young children have a voracious appetite for learning. For too many, that appetite starts to dull as they go through school. Keeping it alive is the key to transforming education. Education means organized programs of learning.

This definition guided me listening to the assigned lectures he delivered, but felt it wasn’t ‘enough’ to cover all the core elements involving learning process.

Going through literatures discussing about learning, I realise that researchers are rarely explicit about what they mean by the term ‘learning’, including many influential textbooks on learning (e.g.,  Bouton, 2007; Schwartz, Wasserman, & Robbins, 2002). This has been highlighted by Jan De Houwer, Dermot Barnes-Holmes and Agnes Moors when reviewing definitions of learning in their article, What is Learning? On the Nature and Merits of a Functional Definition of Learning

The paper proposed a better functional definition of learning as “changes in the behavior of an organism  that are the result of regularities in the environment of that  organism.” This definition consists of three components: (1) changes  in the behavior of the organism, (2) a regularity in the  environment of the organism, and (3) a causal relation  between the regularity in the environment and the changes  in behavior of the organism.

I believe the definition is good because it enables cognitive learning studies involved in answering the ‘when’ and ‘why’ questions in understanding the regularity mentioned in the definition.

But, to sum up a better definition of learning in a more practical manner, the National Research Council in the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition argued that learning occurs when students participate in cognitively demanding tasks, get meaningful feedback, and have the opportunity for real-world application .

I chose this definition because it answers the main crisis our current education system deals with; the instructionism (Papert, 1993). Instructionism prepared students for the industrialized economy of the early 20th century. But the world today is much more technologically complex and economically competitive, and instructionism is increasingly failing to educate our students to participate in this new kind of society .

The way people consume the knowledge today is very different than it used to be. Previously, a school opens opportunities for children to learn by moving from the state of not knowing into knowing things. If learning is limited to the process of knowing new knowledge, then the instructionistic schooling served well the basic purpose of education in the past as learning was in silo. But now,  a more creative collaboration in learning is critical in this knowledge economy, replacing the industry economy that shaped schools and education previously. Professor Stephen Heppel mentioned in one of his speeches regarding the traditional understanding of education, “the modern era may signify the end of education but the beginning of learning.”

Therefore, there is a concensus among thinkers, ideologues, educational reformists, educators and everyone interested in education that schools and other types of learning environment must be redesigned to accommodate a more dynamic, creative, collaborative and constructivistic types of learning. Here is where I believe my own learning journey in MEE is meaningful to support my vision and mission of enabling learning for our children.

Oulu Finland

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