Learning is a complex and often tedious task for students as they typically wonder why they are learning what they do. As kids get older worthwhile experiences become more important to them as they assign personal meaning to certain learning experiences.
Me as a young learner
I think back to the time I spent in elementary, middle school, and high school. My mom spent a lot of time with me at home hounding me to do my homework, study for tests, and finish projects. I hated it. I still hate it. I hated the work that was assigned to me because I found no meaning in at all. Sitting in middle school math class was laborious as wondered when I would ever use concepts of fractions. Or, writing poetry when I had no intention of ever writing it. High school geometry was simply awful. Having to memorize theorems to prove something that was already proven made absolutely no sense.
I was much like the students I teach today. If what I was learning was meaningful to me and I found it worthwhile, it was easy to learn. If not, it was a grudge match with myself to learn.
In my years as a young learner, which I place halfway through college, I never took the time to think about my own learning.
The new learner
A key component of learning today involves the ability to think about thinking and reflecting on what learning means as an individual. While this idea has been around for a long time, students today are not familiar with it nor know how to go about doing this.
The new learner is bombarded with information on a regular basis. The Web hosts millions of ideas, thoughts, blogs, facts, opinions, theories and more. With so much to consider there is little time to sit back and think about what is being learned and why. A critical component of a 21st century learner is to think critically about problems to form solutions, but critical thinking goes well beyond this. Critical thinking about learning and not learning and how learning takes place and does not is of vital importance. The importance lies in being able to create solutions to problems that have not existed before, or develop innovations. Critical thinking allows us to parse, synthesize, and create based on what we know. The self-reflective learner, the new learner, is a deep critical thinker about their process of learning.
The new learner is no longer content with teachers downloading information to them as they sit passively taking notes and then leaving the class with nothing but white noise in their head. Passive learning is nothing more than doodling, wasting away time as the teacher from Snoopy speaks, “blah, blah, blah.” A 21st century learner wants an active, engaging experience.
Active learning is self-reflective learning for there is no disconnect between experience and information because the student is keenly aware of pulling together information to form new ideas, to understand them, or creating ideas that weren’t thought of previously. Inquiry dominates active learning, and without inquiry, the new learner is discontented as there is nothing new learned.
Self-reflective learners are active learners with inquiry at the center of their learning universe salivating upon deeper new knowledge that can be had. Anything other than this leads to a learning discontent.
As I watched the eighth grade students struggle to stay focused to create a self-reflection of the Skype experience with Will Richardson, I realized the unanimous passive learning experience they have had since their elementary years. They had not an idea where to begin or how to log their self-directed thoughts. This passive learning experience dominates education today though there is a tremendous out cry for students to be engaged in active learning. Self-reflection is active self learning.
I meandered about my computer lab facilitating student thinking asking questions, or making comments, to guide them into thinkingabout their thinking as a learning experience. We are not teaching students how to be self directed, self reflective learners for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include state wide tests, too much curriculum, too little time, too few resources, and too little talk to students about self-reflection or allow them to do it.
Learning how to learn
What students really need to know how to do is to learn how to learn. Back to my early learning years – I had no idea, even in college, how to learn. I have since learned how to do this and do it well in a variety of contexts with success.
Learning how to learn is THE skill a student needs to construct what they need to further their own knowledge in the 21st century.