Photo: Jeff Sheldon

The Anatomy of Learning

Have you ever wondered or thought about what actually makes up the learning process, particularly as it pertains to our education system? Let’s dissect learning and see what we find.

For years, the microscope has been on content — the information provided by educators, researchers and faculty. Content and information are the bread and butter of the deliverables a university actually offers. What’s interesting in today’s world is that content is ubiquitous and free. Entities such as Khan Academy, EdX, Lynda, Coursera, and Udemy provide massive open online courses (MOOCs) or content at little or no cost. Scrappy learners can Google just about anything they want to know. With content available from so many different mediums, simply offering access to content is not a suitable or real selling point anymore for colleges and universities.

Next, let’s examine delivery or the format in which information is transmitted. This could be face-to-face (traditionally used), online or a combination of the two. While changes here have provided learners flexibility, variety, and the ability to leverage technology, the gains achieved in the learning process are incremental or additive.

Now, let’s inspect pedagogy or the practices and methods of teaching, which are many. Lecture is the most common and least effective form of learning and places responsibility on the teacher instead of the student. Moving to the other end of the spectrum, multiplicative gains are achieved through application or immediate use (experiential, project-based), where the student is engaged and responsible.

The final piece in the anatomy of learning is relevance and the most important. The pedagogy could be sound, but if the learning is not relevant, then it is compromised. Students can exit a college, degree in hand, only to find what they’ve learned may not be relevant to the job they want. This is why getting the employer involved in the learning process is critical to the learning experience and outcome, which yields exponential results.

It’s time we question the paradigms, traditions and models that have served us well in the past for relevance and applicability today.