What Learning Is

Now, more than ever, educators need guiding principles to move purposefully through the turbulence of modern educational transformation. We’re losing our cherished traditions and hallowed practices. We’re adrift from our reliance on the sturdy structures that have carried us for two hundred years. Everything is in flux, and most of the old paths will soon be lost and overgrown. That sits fine with me; we’re long overdue for renewal in education. We haven’t yet been required to reinvent ourselves, while all around us the world has changed in fundamental ways. In what profession other than education have things gone essentially unchanged since before the First World War? Sure, we’ve had some incremental growth in areas such as assessment and engagement; but the basic model of an instructor at the front, with passive students gathered in rows of seats, would be familiar to a time traveler from the nineteenth century.

Yes, I welcome the changes afoot in education. But I don’t think we should toss out the whole enterprise and reinvent it completely. Some of our traditions and practices should be preserved. But it’s hard to know which ones. And how do we navigate the gulf between what students want and what educators want for students? How do we know where to stand in this great, turbulent, roiling environment?

We start with principles, that’s how. And here are mine:

Learning is not education.
Education is not curriculum.
Curriculum is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not teaching.
Teaching is not learning.

These principles are recursive, as they should be, and interdependent, as all things are.

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