Originally posted on Scholarship of Learning:
The goal of learning to simply pass exams is a fairly recent phenomenon – historically, the goal of learning was so that the learners were prepared to use their knowledge in a post-learning environment to help solve problems and contribute to society. Since the need to contribute anything to society has greatly diminished, and the most pressing need to is enhance career and financial prospects, learning for performance activities (exams and assessments) has become the end goal for most learners. Earlier this week, I wrote about the performance enhancing strategy of capitalizing on state dependent learning.
However, there was a time when learning was primarily to understand the world.
When a person is learning for understanding, different strategies are needed. I often hear students bemoaning the idea that they are engaged in education for the institution to teach them to simply do something. They talk about their hate for the…
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Originally posted on Scholarship of Learning:
I remember how fascinating I thought the whole idea of state dependent learning was when I first heard of it as a second year undergraduate in a Cognitive Psychology class. For those of you who haven’t taken Cognitive Psychology, state dependent learning is the principle that you will remember much better if your state of recall is closely matched to your state of encoding. The example given was the memory tests given in scuba gear. When the divers learned something at the bottom of the university swimming pool, they could recall it much easier if they were tested on the information at the bottom of the pool than if they were tested on the information in a classroom sitting at desks. The take home message (at least for me as a student at the time) is that you need to study for your exams in a state as close to…
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Originally posted on Scholarship of Learning:
I was reflecting this morning on an exchange I had at a recent event I was at (teaching mini-conference at a prominent business school). I was the keynote speaker. During my talk, I asked the group if their graduates were being prepared to change the world, and the response (amidst some laughs) was along the lines of “they can barely get through their exams “.
As is usual when I speak, I talked about the quality of lectures as learning events (poorest type of learning event available). During the questions after my talk, one of the participants noted that all the other business schools she was aware of lecture exactly the same way they did at their school.
As I thought about this today, I thought, “I’ll bet that is one thought that has never entered the head of anyone who has awakened in the morning with the intention of…
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In July, I wrote about learning thresholds, and how we could use technology to define and attain learning thresholds. I was reading Diane Halpern’s “Thought and Knowledge” yesterday, and came across a passage that explains my thinking about learning thresholds, memorization, and critical thinking. It reads:
…thought is powerful only when it can utilize a large and accurate base of knowledge (page 5).
The preceding part of that line is also important in the context of learning in today’s world “…knowledge is powerful only when it is applied appropriately”.
Never before has the world had a greater need of people who can use critical thinking skills, and never before have we had a greater paucity of critical thinking skills – when compared to the total number of ‘educated’ individuals.
The large and accurate base of knowledge has taken precedence over everything else. And, as the sheer amount of information continues to increase to amounts truly unimaginable at a human scale, the obsession with the large and accurate knowledge base threatens to overwhelm, us with multitudes of memorizers who have no concept of thinking.
My problem is not with ‘a’ large and accurate knowledge base, but with ‘the’ large and accurate knowledge base. Those charged with the preparation of the next generation of thinkers have often spent years, if not decades, accumulating and conceptualizing their sliver of the world, and are rightly called experts in their fields. However, that expertise, in no way, prepares them to teach novices how to think. And the current state of affairs in higher education doesn’t allow for subject experts to become learning experts. These experts who focus on more and more information,with more and more classes, programmes, degree schemes, areas of study focus so intently on their field of study (as they are rewarded to do) that they have no conception of what the problem is. Except that they know that their students are not becoming the experts they think they are training them to be.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the recent findings that over 95% of university leaders thought their graduates were well prepared for the world of work, while about than 10% of business leaders agreed (see below). We are so out of touch with reality, we are rapidly losing the credibility that we are banking on to carry us through the disruptive innovation digitization has landed us in.
We can, and need to do better.
I found the evidence – and here it is:
“…(in) Inside Higher Ed‘s 2014 survey of chief academic officers, ninety-six percent said they were doing a good job – but… in a new survey by Gallup measuring how business leaders and the American public view the state and value of higher education, just 14 percent of Americans – and only 11 percent of business leaders – strongly agreed that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace.”
The first requirement for the system I’ve been putting together as a thought experiment that would accredit memorisation (see my three previous posts for some background) would be an infinite set of well tagged questions.
I think this is the easiest part of the system to put in place. We are all aware of the success of crowdsourcing as a way to provide content (think wikipedia). So why don’t we put together an open source question base?
Since this learning system is simply about fluency of recall, all we need are questions about stuff. And lots of them.
It isn’t simply about the questions. in order to make this a memorisation/learning environment, the questions have to be tagged – well tagged. This is necessary so that users can focus on their own learning desires.
The kind of tagging that would make this system useful has three varieties of tags: content domain, source, and event.
The content domain tags are the most obvious. Libraries have spent centuries (literally) organising knowledge into content domains. There are wonderful hierarchal systems that allow users to find learning resources (books, articles, papers, websites, posts, pictures, videos – and who knows what else) within a specific content domain. We haven’t been all that great at tagging these resources, but there’s no reason we can’t start. Within the new question base, an easy to use content domain tagging system is a must.
The second set of tags ahas to do with sources. Knowledge is found somewhere, and if questions can be tagged with a specific source, that makes them all the more powerful. Specific books, journal articles, or web-articles (think wikipedia) would allow users (both learners and contributors) to specify exactly where the information comes from that needs to be memorised to a fluent level. Teachers (face to face or virtual) could then specify both content domain and source, along with the required level of proficiency, for an event (discussion, seminar series etc.) required for the learner to be able to participate fluently.
Finally, event tags could be included so that learners could prepare themselves for the kind of events specified above. They could even be specified for traditional assessment events (mid-term or final exams).
Properly tagged, an infinite number of questions embedded in a threshold learning system, could provide learners and educators with an invaluable tool for the foundational learning we call memorisation.
We are entering a brave new world of learning, and – by extension – education (I hope). However, there is one aspect that has remained elusive, at least to me. That is the recognised accreditation of the learning that is taking place.
There are a number of pundits that scoff at the very idea of accreditation as something that belongs to the age of big, centralised institutions, with the big institutions claiming that this is what will legitimise them in the brave new world. Others have proposed a loose form of accreditation such as badges – a recognised symbol, but what does it mean?
I am concerned about accreditation. What I worry about is the recognition of earned authority. On the internet, anyone can set themselves up as an authority about anything, and they do. Fringe groups, radicalisation, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories – all of these (and more) rely on expertise and authority figures to drive them forward. With the big institutions controlling the recognition of learning, these activities have remained on the fringes, and are not recognised as mainstream or legitimate activities. As new forms of learning and knowledge exploration have arisen, so have the activities of these groups. If there is no ubiquitously recognised method of legitimately recognising and accrediting learning, it will be increasingly difficult for novices to be able to differentiate between authentic authoritative sources and a self proclaimed authority with no foundation.
I’m not talking about subject matter – this is a whole different discussion. What I’m talking about is recognising the authority of an expert, in any field, and providing me with a reason to trust this persons judgment within the area of their expertise.
This has been the motivation for my last two posts, we, as a learning community, have to come up with a universally accepted way to recognise and accredit learning. Being interested in a topic isn’t enough to be authenticated. We have to, somehow, be able to display the credentials that are both recognised and trusted by society at large. Knowing that someone has been awarded a PhD from a recognised university provides us with expectations about that person that you gain, simply by knowing they have a PhD.
Using a system like the one I wrote about in my post on learning thresholds from earlier this week would be a beginning.
Next week, I’ll start outlining what we would need to put into place to realise this fairly simple concept that would allow us to accredit the, fundamentally important, memorisation component of learning.