Sunday, March 01, 2009


PLP, Powerful Learning PracticeSheryl and Will have purposely a designed a professional development model for 21st century learning that is about learning, unlike so many others whose focus is tools. Throughout the life of the Illinois Ohio cohort, they have pushed, nudged, encouraged, and exhorted community members to engage in understanding the shifts inherent in 21st century learning.

Despite incredible growth on the part of so many members, a testing of the waters of “the shift”, some "I get it"s, there has been resistance, push back, notes about all of the “tech activities” and “technology” currently in place, calls for “tools”— Enamored by tools, captivated by technology--

My own personal journey causes me to wonder if community members personal deep beliefs in how people learn have yet been objects of exploration (although there have been many and varied opportunities), resulting in their reluctance to embrace “shifts” that characterize 21st century learning.

Some 11 years ago, having had an incredible opportunity to participate in 40 hours of professional development on unique and compelling uses (publishing, real time data, communication, collaboration) of the Internet in education, I found my students learning skyrocketed when we participated in collaborative projects. At that time, I decided that learning was the result of using the Internet and I wanted to share that with other teachers. I was wrapped up with the use of the tool. I left the classroom to become a resource teacher in the Instructional Technology Office of a large urban district. Over my three years in that position, I reflected upon all I’d done in my classroom and learned as much as I could about learning. I spent hours designing professional development for teachers that modeled good learning with unique and compelling uses of the Internet, realizing that it wasn’t about technology at all, it was about learning and what I believed about how people learn. I returned to the classroom, humbled and eager to design learning experiences with and for my students.

So I know well that understanding the new science of learning is important and hard work, yet it’s not new.

From How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition 1990
An emphasis on understanding leads to one of the primary characteristics of the new science of learning: its focus on the processes of knowing (e.g., Piaget, 1978; Vygotsky, 1978). 10

Asking which teaching technique is best is analogous to asking which tool is best—a hammer, a screwdriver, a knife, or pliers. In teaching as in carpentry, the selection of tools depends on the task at hand and the materials one is working with
If, instead, the point of departure is a core set of learning principles, then the selection of teaching strategies (mediated, of course, by subject matter, grade level, and desired outcome) can be purposeful. The many possibilities then become a rich set of opportunities from which a teacher constructs an instructional program rather than a chaos of competing alternatives. 23

Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place. A community-centered approach requires the development of norms for the classroom and school, as well as connections to the outside world, that support core learning values.

Teachers must attend to designing classroom activities and helping students organize their work in ways that promote the kind of intellectual camaraderie and the attitudes toward learning that build a sense of community. In such a community, students might help one another solve problems by building on each other’s knowledge, asking questions to clarify explanations, and suggesting avenues that would move the group toward its goal (Brown and Campione, 1994). Both cooperation in problem solving (Evans, 1989; Newstead and Evans, 1995) and argumentation (Goldman, 1994; Habermas, 1990; Kuhn, 1991; Moshman, 1995a, 1995b; Salmon and Zeitz, 1995; Youniss and Damon, 1992) among students in such an intellectual community enhance cognitive development.

Teachers must be enabled and encouraged to establish a community of learners among themselves (Lave and Wegner, 1991). These communities can build a sense of comfort with questioning rather than knowing the answer and can develop a model of creating new ideas that build on the contributions of individual members. They can engender a sense of the excitement of learning that is then transferred to the classroom, conferring a sense of ownership of new ideas as they apply to theory and practice. 25
Adapting new theories of learning are even more challenging yet needed.
From George Siemens Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused? 2006
We are growing in our understanding of learning. Research in neuroscience, theories of social-based learning, and developments in learning psychology create new understanding of the act, and process, of learning.

As Downes (2006) stated,
Learning…occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. This conversation, in the web 2.0 era, consists not only of words but of images, video, multimedia and more. This conversation forms a rich tapestry of resources, dynamic and interconnected, created not only by experts but by all members of the community, including learners.

Of most importance is that educators are reflecting on how learning has changed and the accompanying implications of how we design the spaces and structures of learning today.
My journey, my evolving practice and changing beliefs about learning-- from behaviorism with task based learning, to cognitivism with clear objectives and problem solving, to constructivism with social learning and knowledge construction by each learner, to conectivism with complex, open, autonomous, distributed learning -- was long, was arduous, was essential. I’d like to think that evolution reflects my ever increasing understanding of the new science of learning and the recognition of the new opportunities for learning afforded by today’s emerging technologies. Yet, today there is more urgency, a greater need to make a great leap to connected networked learning -- to provide appropriate learning experiences for our children in today's world.

Sheryl and Will, with PLP, provide the perfect environment for deep reflection, for introspection into beliefs about learning, for meaningful conversations about learning in community, for making that great leap. It is my fervent hope that reluctant community members will engage and immerse in those types of reflection and conversation, will move beyond the “tools”, will not let such an opportunity to make practice more relevant, more authentic whoosh right by—

Mindful of my own journey, mindful of the possibilities of 21st century learning, ever mindful of my role as community leader, I move beyond hope to continue to encourage, to nudge, to push--

1 comment:

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach said...

Thanks for modeling so well how to be transparent in the learning process. It is indeed a journey and often one that others can not make in a single year. In fact, I would go so far to say that for most it takes 3 years to get to the top of the ledge and be able to see the connectedness of it all and appreciate the true beauty that comes from orchestrated, organic, deep learning.

Will and I so appreciate your passion, your leadership, and your diligence in this work.