Education innovation playlist
Recently a few friends have asked me to share more about what I’ve been learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education about how learning works and what role technology can play in learning. Here are a few of the people whose ideas have influenced my thinking and helped me see education in a new light.
Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger: “[Most theories of learning] are merely theories of teaching.”
Lave and Wenger point out that teaching and learning are different things. So often, they explain, people study teaching and assume they are studying learning. People also assume teaching must happen for learning to occur. While teaching is important, Lave and Wenger highlight the so-obvious-I-can’t-believe-we-ever-talked-about-things-otherwise truth that learning and teaching are independent phenomena and should be understood separately.
Their book, Situated Learning, discusses how learning isn’t an individual experience, it’s a social experience that happens within communities of practice, a term that describes a group of people working on similar problems. Jean Lave studied apprentices who gained mastery at their trade by interacting with more knowledgeable peers in a community of makers. Most of us learn much of what we know through similar experiences; it’s through participating in social contexts that we gain the knowledge, skills, and dispositions we often refer to as learning.
Chris Dede: “There is no learning without motivation.”
Chris Dede’s classes have been the highlight of my graduate school experience. Every spring, he teaches a class called, “Motivation and Learning: Technologies that Invite and Immerse,” which I feel is the best course at HGSE.
This talk touches on a lot of common Chris Dede subjects including the reasons educational systems need to change and the power of simulations and games to invite students to use their agency for learning. Reflecting on my recent experiences as a substitute in Boston Public Schools, Chris’s words ring even louder in my ears, “There is no learning without motivation.”
So why don’t we design schools for motivation?
Jal Mehta: “The periphery is more powerful than the core.”
Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine co-wrote a book called In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. They spent five years studying American high schools in search of transformative learning experiences, what they call “deeper learning.”
In this talk, Jal summarizes some of their findings and shares why this research convinced him that the periphery and extracurricular areas of current high schools might offer us rich clues for how our system could be redesigned to offer deeper learning experiences to more students in more places. I highly recommend Jal and Sarah’s book, which dives deeply into this research.
Jal’s class helped me see that better approaches to teaching and learning are already here — they are just not very well distributed.
Pierre Dillenbourg: “Does it work well in the classroom?”
Pierre Dillenbourg was a guest speaker in a class I took last spring and since then I’ve taken the liberty of watching everything he’s ever said on YouTube. I love the way he integrates the practical concerns of teachers and learners with theoretical constructs about learning into everything he does.
Bertrand Schneider, one of my professors, pointed out that the great thing about Dillenbourg is his humility. He doesn’t think any technology can dramatically change learning on its own, and he recognizes the role of teachers in orchestrating learning experiences.
David Perkins: “Playing the whole game at a junior level”
David Perkins compares his childhood experiences of learning baseball by playing the “whole game” to school experiences that are usually characterized by what he calls “elementitis.” He explains the problem with this approach, “You don’t learn to play baseball by a year of batting practice, but in learning math, for instance, students are all too often presented with prescribed problems with only one right solution and no clear indication how they connect with the real world” (Perkins, 2009).
Perkins’s excellent metaphor begs the question of how we can modify the game so that students can play it as soon as possible — and thus experience the full sense of motivation that comes from “playing the whole game” in a given field.
Seymour Papert: “They reinvent the ideas as they use them.”
In the below video Seymour Papert explains the basic premise of constructionism, a learning theory he championed. The gist of his message is that people don’t learn things because they are told about them; people learn things by creating knowledge in their own heads by using ideas to build things and solve problems in the real world.
It may seem more efficient to teach by telling people things instead of letting them build and create…but then you realize that most people remember very little of what they are told. I had heard about Seymour Papert before and read parts of his book Mindstorms, but I really got to know his thinking thanks to Mitch Resnick and Natalie Rusk, two of his graduate students who run the Lifelong Kindergarten group in the MIT Media Lab.
Mitch and Natalie both inspire me with their commitment to helping as many people as possible have access to creative learning experiences. I recommend Mitch’s book Lifelong Kindergarten for a wonderful explanation of what great learning experiences look like.