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It’s All About Learning

Donald G. Perrin

I watched my friend teach his lesson. It was a brilliant exposition that brought expressions of wonder and excitement from every member of the audience. I was impressed. I began to wonder what I could do with what I just learned. It had no relevance to me. And I realized it probably had no value to his audience. It was a brilliant exposition that was hollow, irrelevant, without value. He missed his calling. He should have been a magician or a politician.

I thought back to a personal exchange with Dr. Edward Deming, the man who brought quality to Japanese automobile manufacturers. I was one of the fortunates to hear him speak at a meeting about quality. I asked if awards for teaching excellence made a difference. He exploded and stood up in his wheelchair. “Such awards are ridiculous.” he said. “Popularity contests maybe. You don’t know their real value for another five years.” That made sense. If you could survey students five years later, and they could tell you how much and how often that learning was used.

Deming’s points kept echoing in my mind. “Data! Data! Data! To make good decisions you need lots of reliable data.” How often have I arrived at an answer before the question was finished? You need relevant data and a thoughtful analysis to make a meaningful response.

My mind began musing on the art and science of teaching. I thumbed though my desk copy of Bruce Joyce’s Models of Teaching, 7th edition. This is a standard text for teacher education that is truly excellent. Are these models easily adapted to distance learning? Can I combine these models with Curtis Bonk’s interactive media for teaching and learning?

Do we really have a science of learning? We determine needs with assessment tools, specify outcomes with behavioral objectives, describe levels and domains of learning with Bloom’s Taxonomy, select content, media and learning environments based on somebody’s theory of instructional design, plan lessons with Gagne’s nine events of instruction, design and produce evaluation instruments, develop, test and revise prototype lessons, then produce, implement and evaluate the real lesson. If we are working with learning objects, we integrate and customize pre-tested modules to achieve the same result in a fraction of the amount of time.

Add the distillation of 100 years of psychological literature, philosophies of learning, learning styles, and instructional technologies, and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Do we really practice what we know? Or are we like doctors who, after 20 years of school and college, prescribe the same six drugs for most of our “patients”.

I am impressed by national efforts to update curricula and improve teaching and learning. In fifty years I have seen a profusion of ideas come and go. Attempts to classify and organize content were put aside for a standards based curriculum (Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 education). Computers play a growing role in diagnostics, prescription, production, storage and retrieval, presentation, interaction, evaluation, and management of learning. National libraries of earning objects provide instructional components that can be assembled by a computer to match a computer diagnosis and prescription.

I have followed instructional innovations for half a century. Next month I go to Australia where they make effective use of ideas we abandoned to explore for the next “latest and greatest” innovation. Educators and trainers have many wonderful tools at their disposal, and a morgue of great ideas partially developed.

We know much better than we do . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


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