An idealized vision of learning

Our current system of education (meaning most of the US as opposed to West Lafayette specifically) largely mirrors how we were educated when we were young, and indeed how our parents and grandparents were educated. This particular model arose during the industrial age when populations in cities surged and the demand for workers changed to focus on factories and the assembly line. The factory model of learning holds constant the time available to learn, forcing learning outcomes to vary. This meant that those learners who were able to learn within those constraints did and those who did not failed or snuck through the system while retaining significant learning gaps. While this might have worked when most people had a single career and job performance could be repetitive and largely unchanging, today's world is increasingly complex, dynamic, and collaborative.

The learners of today need critical thinking, collaborative, and problem-solving skills while being highly information literate. Despite the heroic efforts of teachers to individualize their classrooms to better meet individual students' needs, the calendar remains king, and students who cannot keep up because they must take care of their younger siblings, or work to support their family, or overcome learning or physical disabilities, or any other reason can easily be left behind.

A core approach to realizing a new system of education is to formalize an ideal vision for what school and learning can be. You have to map out where you want to go before you can possibly get there, and while the journey may seem impossible, you aim for that outcome and implement a cycle of continuous improvement to get closer and closer to that ideal.

As a graduate student, I collaborated on a research team that worked with an Indiana school district on their journey to transforming their schools and their approach to learning. The vision for education that I promote and have worked towards professionally as an educational researcher is one that personalizes learning and focuses on learner competencies. This means that we treat learners like the individuals that they are and make learning the driver of the process, not the calendar. A focus on competency means developing real world skills and knowledge and situating learning within meaningful contexts to promote engagement and transfer. Learners do not move on until they have actually learned and can demonstrate their mastery of core outcomes rather than when the calendar says they should. Finally, applying critical systems theory approaches ensures that the voices of all learners and stakeholders are heard and that the resulting learning environment is equitable and effective for all.

A personalized and competency-based approach to learning is one where students are:

  • self-directed

  • motivated and engaged

  • problem-focused

  • aware of how they learn and where they are on their learning journey

Such an approach values:

  • mastery of knowledge and skills

  • development of self-regulation skills

  • effectiveness, motivation, and love of learning over efficiency

  • learning through collaboration and social interaction