There is a very good reason why there has been a recent focus in education on what has been described as ‘learner centered education,’ the fact is the world is changing, possibly faster than we realise, and so we have to put our learners at the centre of that change if they are to develop the agility, adaptability and dispositions to thrive in the changing and challenging world that surrounds them.
In the past education has been content and knowledge centred. The delivery of content has been the primary focus and so secondary schools delivered content to their students and the students were often passive receivers of that content, hopefully absorbing enough information to do well in assessments and exams and gain the resulting qualifications. The acquisition of knowledge is still of vital importance but it is no longer, by itself, enough. Knowledge is now available to everyone, anytime and anywhere, the world now cares less about how much you know because some would argue that Google knows everything.What the world cares more about and what matters in learning, work and citizenship is what you do with what you know.
Content knowledge has now become a free commodity, available on every internet connected device, this does not diminish its importance but it does change how it is incorporated into the learning experience. It can be seen as one of the three legs of a tripod that supports the learner as they progress through the school system. The other two legs being skills and wills. So the three legged tripod is made up of knowledge, transferable skills like communication, creativity, collaboration etc. and wills including self belief and a desire to succeed. These three, when working together, will provide the basis that will allow our children to ask new questions, solve new problems and create new knowledge. It will enable us to nurture proactive creators within the school system not just passive receivers.
Ideally a learner centered learning experience will give learners the grit and perseverance to succeed as well as the self management skills and knowledge necessary to ensure that success.
So the next question to answer is ‘why now?’ If the education system that we went through in our youth was good enough for us then why change it? After all we all turned out OK.
The quote below is often used in discussions that centre around the need to ensure that we are providing a responsive education that is able to adapt to the needs of the community that it serves. The irony is that it is a quote from John Dewey [1859 – 1952]. Dewy was an American philosopher, psychologist, geologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. He has also been dead for over 60 years so is it not ironical to use his words when advocating the need for educational change?
If it makes sense now then surely it made sense many years ago when Dewey first made the comment. The reason why the time is now right is simply because of the rate of contemporary technological change. The availability of knowledge as outlined above means that schools have to adapt to ensure that they are remaining relevant and preparing our children for the futures, as yet unknown, that they will face. Schools no longer exist as isolated guardians of knowledge, they need to be part of the world that is swirling around them, They need to get comfortable being uncomfortable and they need to accept that we are all in an age of constant change. Not all of that change is necessarily good but we need to arm our learners with the range of skills that will ensure that they can be in charge of their destiny and not lost in the waves of change.
That is why they need to be at the very centre of all a school does and all that a school stands for.
Excuse me now as I get a little bit poetic.
If I was to describe what this learning experience looked like then I would do it in two ways, one with words and one with pictures.
First the words.
I want to be part of a school where the experience of learning allows 1,000 flowers to bloom and where 1,000 birds fly not one where the experience is little more than a dull plod through a curriculum that strangles the joy out of learning. I am tired of seeing the lights go out in bright young adults as they are swamped with endless assessments until in their final year they are drained and exhausted. I want to see them, after being in the secondary system for five years, desperate to leave school because they are over excited about the next stage of their journey. Ready to take on the world and confident that they are going to make an impact.
Second the images.
What does the educational experience look like? Well to me it looks like the expression on the face of the cellist in the video below. The joy, the passion and the confidence evident in his face is what learning looks like to me. The joy of doing something well as an individual but being part of a group that enhances what you do is what learning looks like.
To move away from the poetic flight of fancy now and to finish off I include a brief video from renown Australian educator Simon Breakspear who captures the what and why of a truly engaged learning experience in three simple words.