Teaching without Knowing, and Finding Problems to Solve

I'm honored to have been invited to contribute to the 20time.org blog. Below is a re-post from my primary blog at Edunautics.com

I've already written about one of the key paradigm shifts that I think needs to happen in education: education needs to be real. See "Online Education is not the Disruption."

Now for two more.


We want our students to become expert learners, right? Well, how are we going to get them there if we never model advanced learning? 

Part of the current paradigm of education that I think needs to change is we believe that in order to teach, you must know. I think this mistaken belief is a critically limiting factor in how we approach education. It's the curse of knowledge. If we already know the answer, how can we model advanced learning skills?

I think if we make this basic change to how we structure our learning experiences, we will greatly increase development of many of the critical skills we so long for in our graduates and take them further than we otherwise could towards becoming advanced learners themselves. (And for those worried about the content, from my experience, content knowledge is actually deepened.)

The paradigm sift:
Students need to work alongside expert learners in two situations: one where the expert learner is also an expert in the area they are exploring and, two, when the expert learner does not yet know where they are going or how to get there. 

Now on to another paradigm shift that needs to happen: we need to stop providing problems and their solutions. I take that back: we need to stop ONLY providing problems and their solutions. We need to provide the algorithmic experiences of known problem and stepwise solution, but only as we scaffold learners to develop the skills to identify problems and opportunities on their own—and then to architect solutions, set goals and targets, monitor progress, leverage resources, be adaptable to feedback in the loop, challenge their own assumptions, etc.

The paradigm shift:
We need to stop spoon-feeding students with problems and the steps to their solutions.

This loops back to the advanced learner point above, because what better way to learn to identify problems and architect their solutions than alongside an advanced learner who is also swimming with you?

And both of these shifts tie in to the problem of education needing to be real. I believe it is possible to have most of our learning take place, at least in the middle and high school grades, through solving real problems, alongside advanced learners, with the students being intimately involved in the identification of the problems/opportunities to tackle, and in the planning and execution of their solutions. And we need to start scaffolding towards this in the earliest grades.

So the tally now stands at:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Teachers should be expert learners and learning facilitators, who explore with their students both inside and outside their areas of expertise.
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.