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Enhancement of Learning

Modern communication media offer abundant opportunities for learning.

Newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal give news “in depth”. Weekly magazines distill, analyze and comment on world events. Books provide resources and recreation. CDs deliver voice, music and computer programs. Radio brings listening enjoyment and current events enriched with multimedia web pages. Films and television mix fact and fiction and transport you through time and space to other worlds. The internet facilitates interaction with seemingly infinite resources for exploration and participation, games and simulations. It has simple production tools that enable almost anybody to create web pages with text, graphics, animations, sounds, and video.

With such fantastic resources for communication and learning, why does anybody fail in school? Is failure due to the school, the teacher, the student, distraction of the entertainment media, or …? Do causes go deeper, to educational planners, curriculum and instructional designers, administrators and legislators? Or is it, to use the idiom of educational testing, “All of These” or “None of These”.

Instructional design is based on models like “ADDIE” – Assess, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. Jerry Kemp told us 40 years ago that evaluation data from each iteration can be used to improve the next iteration. If this is true, courses that have been around for a long time should be perfect. Learning should be relevant, fast, and easy. But is learning improved by instructional design? Except in a few areas, the result is, “NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE”.

Maybe it is methodology. Bruce Joyce et. al. in Models of Teaching provide tools for Mastery Learning based on inquiry, constructing knowledge, concept formation, inductive thinking, inquiry training, advance organizers,, memorization, group investigation, role play, learning styles, models of teaching, and conditions of learning. This is the basis of “methods” courses in schools of education. Yet standardized test scores remain the same.

How about technology? It provides powerful systems for diagnosis and prescription, delivery and interaction, evaluation and course management. With technology we can perfect presentations and distribute them to millions. Learning can be interactive, individualized and customized to specific learning needs. Customization is facilitated by use of Learning Objects. Learning can be mobile and accessed anywhere, anytime by anybody. Research results find interactive multimedia and distance learning to be as good or better than traditional learning?

Is there a problem with the blueprint for learning? Do we have clear and relevant goals and objectives? Are goals and objectives stated as observable and measurable performance outcomes and criteria? Supposedly this was implemented for K-12 in U.S. schools around the year 2000 when they adopted the new Standards-based Curriculum, but did it improve standardized test scores? No!

Is the problem with students? In a world of competing distractions, the promises of education grow dim and unattractive compared to television, computer games, and gang activities. Our “same-size-fits-all” educational system for the masses does not adequately provide for differences in ability, experience, opportunity, culture, learning styles, and personal needs. For many students, schools are boring and irrelevant, excessive in controlling and often punitive.

How do we make content relevant? Museums house artifacts of past societies and worlds. They create exhibits and hands on experiences to win public interest and participation. Planetariums, aquariums, art galleries, aerospace museums, national parks and historic landmarks followed suit. The Exploratorium became the ultimate interactive environment, and it is now challenged by video games and computer simulations. Can these excellent resources, along with the products of public television, be integrated into school curricula to make learning more relevant and exciting?

Academe has responded to economic pressures by adding professional level programs and courses. Education is expensive, and graduates must command jobs with salaries that will justify the investment. More students are attending colleges and universities, but the down side is a high dropout rate and an increasing number of graduates deficient in language skills and mathematics.

Perhaps the evaluation tools are at fault? Do tests accurately reflect what is taught? Are they focused on knowledge, skills, and outcomes relevant to a student’s personal and professional life after graduation? The very concept of standardized tests in a world where the half-life of information is less than five years, based on a curriculum that is reaching retirement-age for the world we live in, is absurd. The primary value of “Objective testing” (often called multiple-guess by students) is to provide a set of numbers to categorize the quality of a student or academic institution. Emphasis on this kind of testing has contributed to poor writing skills. If we truly believe in performance objectives, performance testing, and relevance, it is necessary to re-examine testing and measurement practices and procedures and scrutinize industries that perpetuate the status quo.

The classroom model persists, even in distance learning. It is focused on lecture, demonstration, and discussion. Online learning has opened the academic experience to millions of unserved or underserved communities around the world. It is enriched by visualization, interaction, exploration, and peer learning that encompass all learning styles. Modern technologies are ubiquitous, meaning they have interfaces that almost anybody can use. We are in a transition where, for the moment, students are often more technology savvy than their teachers.

As a designer and producer of media, trained in instructional technology and instructional design, I believe it is possible to far exceed the quality of learning that takes place in traditional classrooms. I believe that technology makes customized learning affordable, and through rich learning environments we can stimulate students to explore and learn relevant knowledge and skills and in the process, achieve higher levels of learning and performance. We have the tools, the knowledge and the research to achieve this. And with feedback from each iteration, we can optimize the process for future learners.

The change in emphasis from teaching to learning is a major paradigm shift.

  • It makes each student responsible for his or her own goals, learning and performance.

  • It challenges “teachers” to become instructional designers, facilitators, counselors, mentors and tutors.

  • It encourages collaborative learning where teams of students work with their mentors to achieve their individual and collective goals.

If we are under-funded, there are philanthropic organizations ready to help us. If we are over-regulated, or subject to political interference, we must use the democratic processes at our disposal to affect change.

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