My technology and education class has spent considerable time in recent weeks discussing how people learn, what constitutes learning, and what we, as educators, can do to facilitate learning. We analyzed different taxonomies of learning that ranged from a simple hierarchical model (Bloom’s Taxonomy) to one that is circular (Shulman’s Table of Learning). The model that resonated the most with me was the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO). This model seems to best capture how learning is iterative and cumulative. One must have a certain requisite amount of knowledge in order to progress, and that once a certain “critical mass” is obtained, the learner can then make connections that transcend the sum of the accumulated information acquired to date. At this point, information and knowledge become systemic and interwoven – threads lead to new threads, and new connections are made that link to past knowledge to create new knowledge. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.
As educators, we are tasked with helping students on this journey from information absorption to knowledge creation. There are tools we can use, and we must avail ourselves of them. These tools include such techniques as “active learning,” where learners become dynamic participants in the learning process.
Regardless of how far from our comfort zones these techniques may be, it is imperative that we embrace them. Failure to succeed in this endeavor may very well lead to our demise. If we are unable to successfully compete with the plethora of quality on-line content available we may end up driving the equivalent of a horse and buggy in the era of planes, trains and automobiles. Indeed, a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education prophesied such an outcome, asking the question of whether Universities would follow Borders Bookstores into oblivion? The article noted that many colleges (and professors) were mere bystanders as the maelstrom of the on-line educational revolution swirled around them.
We should consider ourselves served with adequate warning to either educate or perish (although we still have to publish).