Unlearning, Relearning, Learning

It often takes me a while to get ideas to clarify within my mind. It can be a concept that is crystal clear to others but I need to strain the ideas through a few different sieves before I can articulate the essential gist of a concept. Forgive me if you are in the camp where I’m about to state the blatantly obvious.

I read this post from Chris Betcher back in May, and it stuck in my brain like a prickle in my sock. I’d heard the following sentiments quite a few times before in various blogs all over the web.

I’m so tired of having the integration of technology into learning overlooked because it’s “too hard”. As educators – actual professional educators, who actually go into classrooms every day and teach for a living – we do NOT have the luxury of choosing whether we should be integrating technology, or whether we want to learn more about it, or whether we think it’s relevant to the learning process.  It is, it’s part of the job and if people don’t think so, then they ought to be getting a copy of the Saturday paper and looking for a something else to do where they CAN be selective about what part of the job they are willing to take seriously without it impacting on our future generations.

There was a lot of “Here, here, well said” comments and it didn’t sit well with me. So I added my own counter-rant in the comments section where I felt I was defending my much maligned less tech-savvy colleagues. I ended my rebuttal with the following:

Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning. I know that for every thing I can do well in terms of tech integration with students, there are other teachers with other skills in other areas outdoing me and no one really has the moral high ground.

I got a bit of pushback from a fellow commenter and sought to clarify my thoughts further:

I suppose what provoked my response is that I’ve read posts like Chris’s all over the web, lamenting those incompetents who don’t “get it” and I don’t think it achieves much more than getting a round of “hear, hears” and a tone of self-righteousness in the comments. Teaching is complex and becoming increasingly more so, and every facet deserves as much focus for our students’ futures as technology use for learning. Is everyone here on top of every aspect of their teaching practice? Or will some at least admit that, like myself, there are aspects of our job we are not top of totally, components that are works in progress and parts that we find harder to engage with. Think of those aspects and at least recognise the fact that technology use for learning does not come easily for everyone – and that does immediately label them as being less than worthy educators.

Then Chris replied in a manner that finally turned the switch on in my brain, and I could finally see his post in a different, less oppositional light.

I think you sum it up in your last paragraph when you say “Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning.”  For those teachers who accept this state of flux, who willingly learn and unlearn and relearn, I don’t think anyone would criticise those efforts. You’re absolutely correct in saying that there are MANY aspects of the classroom competing for our attention: staying up to date with current developments in literacy and numeracy, brain theory, learning theory, etc, not to mention staying abreast of information about allergies, child safety legislation, OH&S, etc, etc… teaching is a busy job, there’s no argument about that.

My beef is with those that have simply given up, or refuse to do the learning, unlearning and relearning.  It’s not really about technology per se, although I think that the requirement to integrate technology is a trigger that brings these attitudes to the surface.  The real issue is that some teachers – who are supposed to be learning professionals – have forgotten what it means to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Chris is dead right of course. Take the technology focus out of the discussion and what is clear that educators need to have a different mindset to be successful and relevant to their students. They must be in a constant state of unlearning and relearning, ready to challenge their established practice, looking for where to go to next, and adopting the very habits we want in our students.

I then read a powerful post from Dean Groom. As can happen on occasion, he was not totally happy with what he had written and he pulled the post from his blog. But it still came through my RSS reader and when I asked him about it, he replied that I was free to remix it as I saw fit. I’ll share a few key parts that helped me to understand the unlearning and relearning process that I do see many teachers still struggling with. And it does prove Chris’s point because technology tends to show up teachers’ learning dispositions clearly. Dean’s post was about teachers’ learning habits.

I said teachers are engineers and inventors – these are two critical skills of this decade, as trying to design learning episodes that create innovative pedagogy is a little like flying the Millennium Falcon. Nothing quite works all the time and there’s a total sense of urgency about the whole affair with a high possibility of disaster.

The manual is scattered all over the internet in videos, blogs, wikis and people. Most people lack the social keys to decode this, the literacies needed to find it and won’t use their downtime for what they see as work-related actions.

The time allocated to formal workplace development is massively insufficient, and usually lacks any innovation, invention or re-engineering of the experience.

I’ve  seen this when I conduct PD for teachers. Some only need a point in the general direction and others want you to sit side by side with them as they work out how to sign up to a new online account. It is ironic that I get requests for PD on tools that I’ve worked out for myself or by using the “scattered manual” that Dean refers to. That’s the unlearning and relearning at work there. Teachers who teach their students lock step or via spoonfeeding expect that is how their own learning should work too. I do like the idea of doing the PD as a group where I’ll start things off but the idea is to work things out by spinning things off with your neighbours and having an exploratory and playful disposition. I did that last week when I introduced delicious to my new staff (and yes, there are probably hundreds of teachers out there who have never heard of social bookmarking or how it is one tech tool that empowers teachers to learn on their own with others.

Dean also says:

There is a cultural expectation that has been created by 1990s idea of the computer as a ‘tutor’. This gives rise to the idea novices are there to learn ‘how to use’ from an expert. There is an assumptions there will be step by step instructions, that someone will read them to you, that you will attempt to follow and if you don’t succeed, someone will swoop down and move you along. At some point, you will get to decide if you want to use the tool and information in the future. We can’t really call this competency based training, as there is no assessment and therefore no external reward for effort. At best we call it professional development hours, another symptom that teachers are not intrinsically life-long learners, but need a push factor.

I’ve heard that one too. “Are you doing some ICT PD, Graham, because I need to get some more hours?” Not the best indication of an intrinsic life-long learner but the phrase “life long learning” appears in nearly every school vision statement. And it’s an important thing to have there too. Because students will need those skills – but will they get them from a classroom where the person in charge can only talk the talk?

Dean summarises perfectly (to my mind):

A key idea in downtimer learning theory is that the rewards are almost always intrinsic, fuelled by some external motivation. The product of this is the network effect, where social-encoding of knowledge, essential resources and processes become unintelligible to anyone without sufficient keys to access it externally.

So, technology is important because in today’s world it is the enabler of learning unfettered by control. When the learner has that freedom, they work things out on their own or with others but they are not dependent on others to provide them with the resolution. With that technology in most people’s pocket or purse, there is no reason other than ignorance (unintended or willful) for anyone in the learning game to not be actively in charge of their own learning. And then starting to work out how they ensure that their students have the same options for their own learning within their classrooms.

Post update:

I thought that Dean had written another post illustrating the point I’m trying to make here, but I was wrong. He had referenced another post written by Sarah Thorneycroft and he graciously pointed me back there. Read that for a clarifying example.

 

4 Responses to “Unlearning, Relearning, Learning”


  • I have been challenged recently on my on line blogging tutorials on

    http://bling4yrblog.blogspot.com/

    for being too much like hand holding.

    I can see the point in that people remember better when they work things out for themselves but I am undecided.

    I remember when I first started this web/social experience and didn’t know anyone to learn from. I was determined to master it and spent way too much time chase wrong paths before I mastered it.

    If I wasn’t so bloody minded and pig headed I would have given up. I am concerned that that others will also without some clear scaffolds to help along the way.

    Teachers time is precious and spread thinly. If I can speed up the learning with some scaffolds then I’d like to try doing that.

    In response to your Google Graphic- try this ;-)

    http://goo.gl/r82QQ

    • Allanah, thanks for the personalised link – it’s very cool and will help me in my PD session tomorrow night on blogging! For me, the tutorials that you and others produce are part of the wealth of resources that are available to the self motivated and self directed learners of the world. For example, if I sit down tomorrow with one staff member and get them started with their own blog then that is effort that only affects and helps one individual for one occasion only. What you have created can help an unlimited number of people do the exact same thing as what I will do tomorrow.

  • Hi Graham,

    Another thoughtful post. Thanks.

    It’s an interesting sign of how this connected world we live in actually works when I see you coming back to revisit an idea that was floated months earlier, still mulling it over and willing to come back and re-clarify things again in your own head, which in turn helps others (like me) to re-clarify things in mine. So thanks for doing that.

    I hadn’t heard that idea of the “scattered manual” before, but I really like it. And you’re right, that’s pretty much exactly what it is… a collective knowledge of many people scattered across the network. When one has the skills and ability to decode, reassemble, aggregate the parts of the “manual”, then the elusive “anytime learning” is a real possibility.

    I’m a bit with Allanah in her view I think. I see that there are two very different and distinct aspects of enabling learning… one is obviously the learning, and that seems to be a “pull” activity by the learner. Learners need to assume responsibility to pull information to themselves when they feel they need it. The other aspect is teaching, and that seems more like a “push” activity, where information is pushed towards the learner, usually by a “teacher”.

    As much as we talk about reinventing education by doing away with “teaching” in favour of “learning”, in order to react against the industrial model of education where teachers taught and students were supposed to just absorb it, and in doing so restore learning to its rightful place, I think we need to be careful that we don’t push the pendulum too far the other way and marginalise the act of teaching altogether.

    My feeling is that good teachers know when to actively teach, and when ro allow students to independently learn. Good teachers know when to push and when to allow pull. They know when to say to a student “this is how you do it”, versus saying “you need to go away and think about this for yourself”. It’s not that Teaching should take precedence over Learning, or that Learning is somehow less tainted with the stink of the 20th Century than Teaching, but rather, we need to know where the balance point is, is various situations, for different students, and apply that balance dynamically to that every student is always right there on the edge of their Zone of Proximal Development.

    As a teacher, I want to know when to say to my learners (including other adults), “You seem to be struggling, let me help you”, and when to say “I will not do this for you, as it only deprives you of the opportunity to learn it for yourself.”

    I don’t think you should ever do for someone what they can and should be able to do for themselves. The “scattered manual” exists so readily that to absolve learner from the opportunity, and the responsibility, to learn for themselves just shortchanges them in the long run.

  • Hi Graham. I understand totally where Allanah & Chris are coming from but I also think there is a distinct difference between helping people with scaffolding tutorials or PD sessions and having to sit side by side with someone to create an account or write a blog post. We had a session on blogging at school last week where the teachers there were at different levels. Two teachers sat together to set up a Picturetrail account and start uploading photos, with just the odd question thrown at me, whilst another was set up to write a blog post and left because I didn’t sit with him whilst he wrote the post. To me, a clear indication of the willingness to continue learning versus the “provide me with the solution” attitude.

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