Teaching learning, teaching for learning, or teaching learning through living?

Learning and understanding learning is one of my favourite topics and I love tinkering with how people think and what it means for learning and life. This post is a short reflection on a conversation between Stephen Downes and George Siemens as a part of the open connectivist ‘class’ #el30.

George began with a lovely sentiment that we as humans learn. As long as we live, we learn- whether as intentional, sub-conscious learning or otherwise – we learn.

I do believe that is a truth. He then went on to ask a valuable question:

Why are we teaching in a way that is counterintuitive and not personally satisfying to students? 

-What should we be teaching in our school systems.

(As an aside, I have an issue with the ‘system’ – the first time George said ‘school system’ far earlier on in the conversation, I twitched and thought – oooh a Freudian slip there- why would he call it a ‘system’ when school and learning should be anything but ‘systems’. A system makes me think of flow charts and expected outcomes, pre-conceived and defined content, outcomes, answers, and worse – commercialisation. I’ll leave that thought in brackets so it doesn’t pollute the rest of this post!)

I prefer learning as part of a journey. I might go a bit down the road and then perhaps for the course I’m on, I look around and document my journey so far. For me there is no ‘arriving at the answer’ even if there is an externally observable outcome like a performance. That is a stepping stone and I stand in that place at that moment, it is not an answer. If there was an answer to have, I promise I would have put my money where my mouth is and bought that one already.

About an hour before this George-Stephen chat, in Stephen’s conference presentation, he asked:

Why would we employ tests and quizzes ‘inside’ the learning environment when the learning [we aim for] is intended for use ‘outside’ the learning environment – in life & work? It’s about application in context, not memorising content.

For me the bigger question is about the purpose- both the personal, community, and collective perceived purpose and meaning of being, action, and interaction (what we think, what we do, and how we internalise one another).

George commented:

There is something about those things that aren’t measured by our university or school systems today, and yet end up being the most consequential in a societal or work-based environment.

And Stephen added in summary:

It’s precisely in the things that can’t be measured where we have the greatest potential of being what computers aren’t.

Yes. and more yes. and how funny that George asks for an accurate depiction for how to develop learning…. but that is an in-built oxymoron. You can’t have the answer. 🙂 …it takes me back to your meditating monk – the answer will come, but depends on the individual and their purpose and perspective – and that answer changes with time (and I don’t mean age or the passage of time, but simply with the orientation in the now and how that relates to the rest of the now around us).

Featured image CC BY-NY-ND by James Laing 

(I liked it so much I put it at the bottom here too, so it could be bigger 🙂 )


  1. Pingback: #el30 Notes Week 1 - lauraritchie.com

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