The core business of any school is the delivery or facilitation or the enabling /encouragement of learning.
Ultimately the core business is learning, the definition of what learning is and what it looks like is under scrutiny though as educators increasingly question what learning is and what it should be in a contemporary context.
All too often this seems to come down to a debate between content delivery and a more personalised, learner centred approach as if the two were somehow combatants and rivals.
Increasingly I see the two not as adversaries but as partners. It is about getting the balance between the two models right and then more importantly seeing the connection between the two.
There is little doubt that a rigid traditional approach of pouring content into learners is no longer acceptable or relevant, but the need to acquire knowledge is as important as ever. In the same way the idea of just letting learners pursue there own educational pathway without support or accountability is equally ludicrous. Just as knowledge is still important though the development of the individual is of equal importance.
There is a plethora of material currently available around the whole idea of learner centred education. Whether is be project based, inquiry, UDL or some other title I see all as having a high degree of similarity in that all follow a similar process and it is the process that is important as it is the process that provides the necessary structure to a more personlaised approach to learning.
How these two drivers of content or learner centred approaches co exist is a dilemma currentlyfacing many educators. As with most situations the complexity of the issue gains clarity for me if I can visualise it hence the diagram that is at the top of this blog.
If we accept that learning is the important overriding objective then we can see the pursuit of this learning in whatever form it takes as being able to be facilitated via two models.
One is teacher directed and the second is more learner directed. This is not to say for a moment that the line on the diagram above is rigid in reality. Far from it the movement between the teacher directed model and the learner directed one should be very fluid. It is not a case of either or but more a case of both working together to enhance and empower.
Whereas one is more learning centred the second is more learner centred. This then is the primary focus of the model, one is more focused on the learning of skills and content the other is more focused on the relevance and appropriateness of learning to and for the individual.
In the former it is often the teacher or mentor who provides or influences the content and context but in the learner centred model it is primarily the learner who provides or dictates the content and context according to need.
What is important is that whichever model is being utilised at any particular time it is the process that remains the same. The process of learning is identical irrespective of which model is being used.
Questions need to be answered, material needs to be analysed and answers or products need to be created and celebrated. In fact it is the acknowledgement of this process of learning that could well give a renewed legitimacy to the importance of learning centred approaches where relevant as it enables that model to be seen as something different to just the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ approach. By placing the process of learning at the centre it can be seen how both models can complement each other and how both have their role to play in the development of the learner. It is not a case of either or but a case of realising that though they have differences they also have many similarities and it is in recognising these similarities that the real synergy between the two becomes apparent.
Both have to acknowledge the prior learning of learners and both have to realise the importance of each individual as a culturally placed young adult who brings an individual world view and perspective into any learning environment. The difference is that one acknowledges this prior knowledge while the other is more driven by it.
The real purpose of being aware of the two models though is to see the connection between them. If the acquisition of knowledge is seen as an end in it self then the connection between the two will never be realised but if we start to see as the purpose of one as leading to and supporting the other then we can really start to see how they can they can complement each other and provide a more holistic learning experience.
The professional educator should be able to predict what types of knowledge and content their learner will need in the next stage of their learning and should be able to plan and prepare accordingly. This does not become a rigid scheme but more of a state of readiness to help learners over predicted and often predictable obstacles.
This prediction and preparation should enable the learning to ensure that not only content is delivered but relevant skills and dispositions are developed in depth and developed in appropriate and relevant contexts. The teacher then is the guide who sometimes has to clear a path.
The development of depth is the vital component here as this will enable the learner to develop the skills that will enable them to go into greater depth in the more personalised aspects of their learning.
In other words the knowledge empowers and enriches but is also transferable to different situations.
Ultimately what this should enable is greater empowerment on the part of the individual in other words it will lead to a greater release of the learner into an increasingly personalised world armed with the skills and knowledge to ensure depth of investigation.
The purpose then of a learning centred approach is not only to complement but to feed and enrich so that the learner centred model is able to thrive.
The decision then becomes not which camp an individual educator sits in but how they effectively utilise both models to provide a rich learning environment that increasingly releases the independence of the learner.