Thinking about learning… still!

I’ve been thinking a great deal about what learning looks like. You’ll know this, if you’ve been with me as I gathered ideas, images, quotes and thoughts.  See the final product here.  Or maybe it’s not final…

The comment by Rosa from Ecuador got me thinking further.  Was the view of learning that I presented very narrow?  I revisited my presentation and considered whether it reflected the limited view she suggested.   As a teacher myself, with a PLN of other educators, the comments and quotes naturally focus  mainly on learning in schools, but I disagree that the images and comments are only about school learning.  Still, was my view of learning skewed by the fact that I live in Australia, ‘the lucky country’ and work in a privileged school?

I’ve spent a few days reflecting and assembling the puzzle pieces of my own learning about learning…

My son and daughter-in-law are currently volunteering in India for an organisation called Navsarjan, whose mission is to eliminate discrimination based on caste, class or gender.  Part of their work involves teaching English at DSK, a ‘Dalit Empowerment Center’, which is primarily a vocational training center serving economically and socially marginalized youth.  One of the highlights of my visit to India was sitting on the floor of the ‘library’ at DSK with a few  students and teachers, looking at books and discussing school experiences.  Although they knew little English, the smiles of the students said a great deal

My  daughter volunteered last year at Arte Del Mundo in Ecuador, an organisation which works to provide arts and literacy programming for children and adults who don’t have access to these experiences in their lives due to lack of resources and infrastructure. She taught English to Spanish speaking kids  and we sometimes discussed ideas for her classes. I had to adjust my thinking and constantly remind myself of the fact that this was a teaching and learning experience very different from my own.  She had no resources at all and had to come up with ways of teaching that didn’t involve English books or videos or any kind of technology, but had to create everything from scratch.

I have a very good friend in India, who is product manager at a company that creates an online tool which can be used to enhance and express learning (no plug here, this isn’t the time or place!)  His son is part of a school system in which 9 year olds have to write exams.  There is a huge amount of pressure on kids in India to achieve high marks and get into college.  He and I have spent many hours discussing and comparing our experiences and beliefs about teaching and learning.

In the past few months, I have become involved with Soles and Somes, through which I have been interacting over Skype with a group of less advantaged 11 year olds in Hyderabad.  Between technological difficulties, cultural differences and the language barrier, this has proved to be far more challenging than I had originally anticipated.  I have learned that although it never goes as planned,  the kids are excited to interact with me even if the technology fails.  And I have learned that I can gain just as much from these interactions as the kids can!

At a recent IBO conference, I heard James Tooley talk about his research into low cost private schools in developing countries.  I learned how Seetha Murty helped change a conventional school in India to an inquiry based IB school, against the flow of the prevailing educational system and beliefs.  At the ACEC Digital Diversity Conference this week, Michelle Selinger shared many examples of teaching and learning in developing countries, such as the Hole-in-the Wall project, the Jordan Education Initiative and the Lakshya Story.

Bearing all of the above in mind, I think I can remove myself from the limited view of my ‘lucky country’ and my privileged school, as I continue to think about what learning looks like. I know it’s not about classrooms or teachers or desks or books or computers or technology.  Wherever you are in the world and whatever your circumstances, learning does not look like school.

Real learning is about…

  • wondering,  asking questions and seeking answers
  • developing skills
  • thinking about new concepts and ideas
  • making connections between new learning and what you already know
  • deepening understandings
  • constructing meaning from experiences
  • applying new knowledge in different contexts

….  I think!

Confession: I have changed that list again and again!  As long as I continue to think about the possibilities, I continue to be a learner myself.  🙂

6 thoughts on “Thinking about learning… still!

  1. I surmise that the list above will continue to change over the course of your thinking. I am a personal fan of “applying knowledge in different contexts”. Especially when we start to think of this in the form of the “transfer of knowledge” across disciplines. I always tell my kids that if I teach them something, but it never comes into play anywhere other than my class, then I have failed them. Now obviously every little detail doesn’t help across life, but the big, broad ideas that I spend weeks and months working on with them should. I see a number of places this fits in to your list above, but I just wanted to offer that up as more to think about.



  2. I think the important thing is, you know what learning is not. Learning is NOT school. You are 100% correct about that! Your list is fantastic. It will evolve, and change, and increase. That is okay. Learning does that.


  3. I like your project! Thanks for doing this.

    One thing I noticed is that everything on your list can be done in isolation, without the input of another person. But, in your presentation you show groups of people working together. In your blog you ask for feedback.

    As we know, learning has a social context. I can well imagine some people taking your list and, to some degree or another, define themselves as intelligent learners even though they neglect the input of others.

    Learning interacts with others and invites challenge so that it can be refined. Something like that.

    You have done a great work here! I have enjoyed reading through you blog. Thanks.


    1. Yes, David, I agree 100%. I definitely think learning has a social context and as you saw, that was a big part of my presentation. It came through in the comments I gathered from students and teachers alike and in almost every image I chose. I wonder why I left that out here… Probably because Rosa’s comments on the previous post threw me off track a little. I started questioning whether I had focused too much on school learning in my own school context. I became more conscious of visualising classes in developing countries where there are sometimes 70 children facing one teacher and very little interaction taking place. And I tried to think of situations where individual learning is occurring. I wanted to make sure the list I ended up with could apply in any learning situation! In doing so, I have lost some of the elements that I think are valuable in GOOD learning!


  4. Thankyou for being there during my presentation. and big thanks for getting the right message out of my presentation. having read about your interactions with the underprivileged children over skype in hyderabad-I am very keen to know how the interactions have helped them. want you to know that I have been a part of a teacher training project of IB in Hyderabad for the teachers of underprivileged children. we used many IB methods and it worked very well.
    I live in Hyderabad.
    warm wishes


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