… getting into songs again it seems. Wrote the above and the song “All about love” popped into my head… but this is not about love or is it? Looking back at yesterday’s MELSIG Event at Liverpool John Moors University makes my mind focus on the idea of choice and the impact this might have on student engagement and learning.
Would this lead students staying within their comfort zone or would they see it as an opportunity to start were they feel comfortable and more confident and then lead them to progressively adopt more adventurous and perhaps less familiar learning strategies that would lead to new discoveries? Boosting students’ confidence is vital. Tutors and peers play an important role in this. Teachers showing real interest and care for students can make a big difference to students, increase their self-belief, self-worth and confidence. Having a voice and the strength to move on as they will start believing in their abilities helps them see the potential what they can achieve. Providing choice might be seen as a demanding task for tutors, other might completely disagree that this is a good idea! I think it is a fantastic idea to give individuals choices. But how can we make it happen? It is not an easy job and a lot of planning will go into it. A lot of it will look, feel and be very messy. What is wrong with that? Learning is messy anyway! It doesn’t happen in a linear way. Or does it?
Our extra efforts to bring in choices are really worth the trouble as there are potentially huge learning gains. We all know it teaching is not really possible. What we can do is help people think for themselves, inspire them and facilitate their learning. Doing it our way or imposing even our way can be catastrophic… and lead to disengagement. Are we getting carried away sometimes or even often? Are our own learning preferences or habits driving what we set-up for our learners? How we organise learning for them? I am guilty of this myself… How can we avoid this? I think providing a learning menu, will shift the responsibilities and ownership of learning. Learning belongs to the learner. It is something the learner does. Nobody else can do it for them. It is not a passive act! Some will find choice challenging in the context of their own learning practice. Perhaps only initially, though as they expect perhaps to be told what to do, when and how and act perhaps more in a robotic fashion… because this is what they know, this is what they expects, this is what comes natural to them and is considered normal and accepted. It has worked for them in the past… but how has it worked?
Ok, becoming an autonomous learner is not an instant thing. Do don’t wake up one morning and say “I am an autonomous learner now”. It needs time and a scaffold. Yes, we do need scaffolds and we do need helping hands too. But we also need to learn when times comes to let go, as learners and as teachers. Getting to know our students and what makes them tick is really important and will help us create learning communities. Only then will we be able to draw them in and enable them to open up, connect, share and challenge their own beliefs and preconceptions. Trust is a vital ingredient in this process. Learning is change but we can’t force anybody to change in the same way, we can’t force anybody to learn…
Choice might be the vehicle to lead learners progressively out of their comfort zone to voluntarily experience discomfort… not suggesting that throwing learners in at the deep end, borrowing Phil Race’s words, is something we should avoid. When we have recognised and normalised perhaps discomfort as an important ingredient for learning, when we feel safe as part of a learning community, we can be more relaxed, take a few more risks and be more playful and creative. All this means letting go of control and being out-of control often… Some might think what has all this to do with the recent MELSIG social media event… well, it was never about the social media… more about the people who use these to come together to learn about themselves, others, the world and grow.
Thank you Andrew, Sue, Peter, Mark, Tim, Carol an all for such a rich MELSIG exchange!
BTW I actually think it is all about love, the love of learning, the love of helping others to learn and the love to make this happen for ourselves and others. Feel free to comment if any of the above makes sense, you have questions or if you oppose to any of my musings. My writing captures raw reflections which need to be discussed with others.