The Mindless Drone of the Broken Classroom

In a recent Edutopia article titled, Distance Learning Strategies to Bring Back to the ClassroomSarah Cooper describes a few relevant strategies for bringing online instruction back to the physical classroom.

However, I contend this is similar to putting a bandaid on a broken spine. If we continue to look at the classroom, and teacher, as tools to pour knowledge into obedient disciples heads, we will not begin to solve the educational crisis we are currently in.

The classroom is a synchronous “real time” learning tool best suited for “just in time” learning strategies. This often leads to authority directed learning strategies that focus on thinking fast on your feet learning. The classroom becomes a covering content hoop jumping competition. As a result, superficial learning is often regarded as deep and meaningful learning.

Online learning is a tool best suited for asynchronous ” not in real time” learning strategies. Pause, reflect, think, and plan over time. Asynchronous learning strategies require a high level self directed learning. There is no one to prompt, remind and nag you to do something, or get something done on time. Since many classrooms are authority directed, many learners have not been taught how to be self directed learners. They are unable to learn online. Also, when teachers just move their classroom learning strategies online they become even more ineffective. As a result, superficial learning is often regarded as deep and meaningful learning. 

The conflict between learning in a classroom and learning online is really about learning how to learn, and about how to use the most effective tools to learn.

One important idea about this conflict is the focus on “teaching to the test”, or having the right answer, as the illusionary outcome called “understanding”. This red herring falsely rewards educators as “successful” teachers. Yet, we all know from experience, failure breeds success, if we learn from it and don’t give up. Failing, by doing the same thing over and over, expecting the same results, is the definition of insanity.

The point is we learn when we make mistakes and improve on those mistakes. Teaching to get the “right” answer is learning how to give up. If you don’t get the right answer, your corrected, and you give up and move on. Learners need to be taught how to stick with learning. They need to learn how to work harder when they feel like giving up. We can always improve if we know how to improve. Learning how to learn is about struggling with learning and never giving up. Learning how to learn is about being the captain of your ship of knowledge. Learning how to learn is taking charge of your life. 

One example are critical thinkers who work at becoming fairminded by developing intellectual habits. They learn how to use intellectual habits to develop and change their lives by how they learn, how they communicate with other people, and how they see the world. They develop the habit of questioning everything they hear or read. They develop the habit of using intellectual standards to decide what to believe and think. They use tools to think every day and their thinking improves and eventually knowledge turns into wisdom.

A reasonable objection to this position is that teachers are not prepared to change how they teach. Many do not have formal teaching education and take the position, “If the old authoritarian ways of learning worked for me they will work for you” point of view. Others have been avoiding technology like the plague. They scurry like rats when a computer appears. The mindset that you have to “know everything”, and you can’t get “caught not knowing”, often leads to shallow learning.

There is a need for mandatory, deep, development of intellectual habits, to learn how to learn and how to use the most effective tools to learn, as the foundation for a professional educator.

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