One Size Fits All

We are all a product of our education – the endless pursuit of the right answer means that we want a right answer to educational challenges.

Michael Gove is (and the millions who support him are) a product of our system, and is the same as too many of the rest of us – looking to find the right answer to education.

Learning is a complicated endeavour with just a few of the following differences in individuals

  • Developmental stages
  • Interests
  • Abilities
  • Subjects
  •        Levels within a subject
  • Understanding needs – how well do I NEED to know this?

Different approaches to learning address different problems that we might need to work through. A behaviourist approach, like mastery learning, should be used when there is information that a student simply has to know. There are techniques that have been developed within this area (e.g. precision teaching) that are good if you just need to exactly memorise things like multiplication tables. Using a cognitive approach with  findings from cognitive psychology (e.g. the testing effect) is useful for memorising information that doesn’t need to be learned exactly, but is necessary as a foundation to build on. These approaches are useful because all of us need to have basic material readily available as a foundation upon which to develop a deeper understanding.

Using a connectivist approach is great to develop higher level thinking skills such as creativity, critical analysis, flexible thinking and metacognition. However, having final year psychology students engage in writing blogs and commenting on each other’s work (a highly effective method I use in one of my classes) would be less than useless for a group of nine year olds trying to learn multiplication tables.

HE lecturers and departments are too often one trick ponies, with only one approach to teaching when multiple approaches might be necessary, eg: flipped, mastery learning for a skill based class like statistics in psychology.

Recognising this means putting learning before teaching, and planning a curriculum that is a learning programme rather than a teaching programme – something not often done well in HE. Using appropriate approaches and philosophies for different learning needs would go a long way to reforming education.

There is no single right answer to fixing education.

How have we made something as exhilarating as learning, as oppressive as education?


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