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LEARNING IS NATURAL, NOT ARTIFICIAL


     One of the more common goals/challenges that emerges regularly in education is the subject of relevance.  Relevance is the idea of connecting learning to things that matter.  And we know what matters to all of us are things that we can see, connect and apply.  It’s what’s real right?
      With than in mind, how do we work to create learning experiences that are ‘real’ for all students?  Well, this is challenging in that we have created entire systems of learning that are really built on artificial foundations vs. real ones.
      As an example, our entire idea of the classroom is predicated on something that is really not real world or real – at least certainly not any longer.  The set-up of the classroom - with students at desks or seats and a teacher at the front dispensing knowledge and instruction - comes from a time when information was in the hands of a few experts, while workers or employees worked in factories or factory-like situations.  Additionally, our schools were created in time when academia was controlled through the classic top down approach. 
     Ironically, students have always learned outside of school.  Whether it was working on the family farm, reading independently, having a part-time job, or any thousands of other activities, students, or people, learned constantly.  The difference is that we haven’t always viewed those real world or hands-on experiences as learning as much as we did the contrived, controlled and rather artificial confines of the classroom.
     So, what do we do to change the artificiality of our traditional classroom, educational and learning environments?  Well, first address the obvious physical limitations of the classrooms.  Desks in rows are obviously not relevant any longer.  Our work and employment worlds are not like that any more.  And our schools, while slow to change, are aware that learning now involves things like technology integration, project-based experiences and teachers as facilitators.  All of these imply that students sitting quietly in rows of desks in a classroom are not relevant any longer.
     But we can’t stop there.  In addition to creating classrooms and learning spaces in terms of the seating, work spaces, etc., how else can learning expand and become more natural, more real and ultimately more relevant?
     Many are experimenting with time.  Why is it thought that learning only happens in these artificial and fabricated confines of a school day schedule, class periods, and official registered courses?  And I’m not suggesting more homework.  However, with the Internet’s potential of 24-hour learning anywhere and anytime, why would we restrict learning to only when we’re present, or only to 2nd period or only during the 180-day school calendar.  Naturally, on-line learning has exploded due to this potential.
      As students begin experiencing and ultimately viewing learning as something that is a personal and lifelong journey, the more learning will happen organically and naturally.  Learning will be something that happens continually and constantly (like it always has been) and be something that the learner owns.
      If students or learners are pursuing an area or areas of passion and self-interest, as well as using all of the available tools in the world to do so, will we not see a different type of student and learner who extends their learning way beyond the classroom, bell schedule and school year? 
      Haven’t educator always wanted lifelong learns who learn independently?  Well, the time, tools and learners have arrived.  Now what?
   For classroom teachers and administrators who are charged with the duty or challenge of students’ learning, this is going to require some creative breaking of the barriers.
      Our questions that are going to continually challenge us are the following:

·       Where can learning happen for a student outside of the classroom?  Field Study, Job Shadowing, Internships, Externships, etc.  These are not new ideas, but are going to now be something that all students need and require throughout their entire learning career?  All students will need real learning opportunities that they can see, taste, touch and experience in order to learn at the highest of levels.  They will need opportunities to apply what they learn both inside and outside of any educational institution or program.

·       Will students’ learning be expected to only occur during their registered courses and schedules?  Or will we see a system that is more customized and personalized where students have learning plans and goals and they coordinate a plan to address those through all of the available resources and tools available?  That might mean that a student’s or learner’s schedule, courses, credits, requirements, transcript, etc. all look very different from one another. Will our secondary and post-secondary institutions be able to handle that?

·       Who are one’s teachers and instructors?  There is nothing wrong with having assigned teachers and facilitators, as well any number of administrative and/or support personnel dedicated to the learning goals and needs of any individual student.  But do we stop there? Should all students have one or more professional mentors outside of the classroom or school confines?  Sometimes this happens naturally, but all students need and deserve that.  How many other adults, mentors or learning guides could a student have?  We that one can’t have too many in terms of having better opportunities and greater success.  Bottom line, the official or assigned teacher or teachers may not be enough.  There are too many needs, too much learning and too much potential to restrict it.

This list could grow naturally right? Things like location, space, time, schedules, personnel, resources and more should not restrict learning or the potential for any student to maximize their learning. 
These will represent huge challenges for us as educators because it will challenge our own experiences and pre-conceived notions of learning, as well as require levels of creativity and innovation that will be unprecedented. 
(images courtesy of foter)

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