How Kids Learn
A kaleidoscopic question for a multi-faceted learning future
Last week I curated a private conference on How Kids Learn in the UK, with speakers and experts from across the world. I thought I’d share the intro.
Understanding How Kids Learn presents us with a rather kaleidoscopic question, not only depending on who is asking the question, but equally on why, how and where the question is being asked and what the kids are learning.
Learning is a complex phenomenon as the learning Sciences i.e. neuroscience, cognitive and developmental psychology, pedagogy and human-technology interaction design demonstrate and educators, parents and learners clearly corroborate. Yet we see very little evidence of how learning is best-served in schools and how, in general, kids and adolescents engage positively in learning.
How kids learn raises an increasingly important question. We live in a world of growing complexity with (r)evolution in science and technology moving at exponential speed. The relationship human-machine is taking us into new dimensions that have never been ventured into before, are not understood and difficult to fathom. Yet, this is the world children live in, play in, grow up in and learn in. But education hasn’t caught up, nor has the design of learning had the attention it merits; whether in blended, EdTech enabled or non-tech supported modes or pedagogies.
Learners and teachers still tend to live and learn in modes of education developed for the needs of the Industrial Revolution, based on instructional models that didn’t nor don’t exactly equip learners and teachers to construct and understand their own learning, nor realise their potential. These front-of-class instructional approaches strived for a one-fits-all and standardisation, often leaving little room for play, exploration and collaboration. More recently, rather than focusing on the act of learning itself in a social relationship with teachers and peers, education has been subjected to a growing appetite for measuring and focusing on meeting targets.
However, these kind of pedagogies and instructional models are unlikely to provide learners or teachers with the skills, aptitude and knowledge they need to navigate and tackle the complexities of our world nor the challenges of tomorrow. When EdTech made an appearance (EdTech 1.0), things didn’t get much better and instructional design approaches, initially designed for the US military, became somewhat de rigeur as well as process engineering of teachers’ workflow before resorting to systems’ engineering of platforms that left learning to the side, alienating teachers in learners, nor focusing on learner-centred design principles, that teachers could rely on and engage with and engage learners more actively in learning and learning construction.
Moving into a world of fast-evolving technologies, new EdTech developments (EdTech 2.0), online gaming, AI and machine learning, which are starting — albeit it rather slowly — to make inroads in learning and education, new modes and Human- Machine-Collaboration-Pedagogies (HMCP) or Human Machine Pedagogies (HMP) will need to be designed, developed and implemented. This cannot happen without the support of learning sciences and a new disciplines often called learning engineering that uses learning science principles and findings, as well as learner-centred and learner variability design principles. These will — in the digital domain at least — need to be underpinned by user-centric design and accessibility principles to aid learning construction.
New and/or augmented pedagogies will emerge that need to support learning construction and ensure the social fabric of learning is not diminished in human-machine education settings or more modest EdTech-augmented teaching and learning. For such pedagogies to develop and blossom, gaining insight in How Kids Learn will be a fundemental requirement.
If we want appropriate pedagogies and andragogies(1) to flourish, education can no longer blindly continue on what worked in the past, but needs to look at learning and education for tomorrow, based on gaining insight in learning, learning modalities, learning environments and contexts, as well as to optimise the use of technology in education and learning. This will require new policies, designs and environments for learning in which teachers and learners can play, thrive and construct, understand and own their learning.
“How kids learn” is not a binary question. The question is a multi-faceted one that we can no longer avoid engaging with and delving into. During a conference in the UK on 28th-29th September, organised by the Tmrw Institute, hosting international policy-makers, educators, learning scientists, researchers, pedagogues, EdTech start-ups, learning engineers, NGOs and foundations, we considered the question in more detail. Some of the views, perspectives and research findings were shared by our participants and their perspectives shared for the conference are available for download. How Kids Learn Views of Conference is available here.
(1) Andragogy: The method and practice of teaching adult learners