Shaun Koh explained to the audience that he was educated in Singapore, but he grew up on the Internet. He read the web version of the New York Times, watched streamed television from Korea, and used the same Google to find out the answers to his questions just like everyone else around the world.
His best teachers were like “shepherds” helping him, guiding him, listening to him, and nurturing his passions and his curious nature.
But when he was asked by the forum moderator during the ISTE 2010 Keynote on Innovation and Excellence what he wished he had learned in school, Shaun paused and sighed, “I wish I had learned how to learn.” He learned a lot of curriculum, he explained. But no one taught him how to learn.
It’s been this university student, Shaun Koh, currently studying in Michigan, who shared his perspectives at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference held in Denver that has stimulated the core of my being since.
As a teacher in the late late 90′s I was turned on to the idea of meta-cognition, thinking about your thinking. And now, stimulated by this conference I am wondering if there is a term for learning about your learning.
- What does it look like when you know how to learn?
- What does it look like to help others learn how to learn?
- How have I learned how to learn?
- What do I do when I need to learn something?
I’ve been thinking about all the things that I have had to learn in the past year since moving into the directorship of curriculum and instruction. Since there were so many things to learn, it is easy for me to reflect upon myself as a learner.
As an adult learner, I know that I need several things in order to learn.
- I need the big picture. I need to see the concept that I need to learn and how it relates to something else I already understand. I need to see how the ideas are interconnected and relate to one another, whether similar, different, or somewhere in the middle.
- I need to connect with other people who have already learned what I am trying to learn, currently learning the same thing or learning something similar to what I am trying to learn. It’s great when someone has already traveled the road I am on and can help me with my learning. But, if I am learning something all together new, then I love to find learning partners – people who are also trying to learn what I am trying to learn. I’ve learned that I need to connect with other people because of two other reasons.
- I need models and examples. My first choice is getting copies of other folks models and examples. To me, lots of things are models or examples. I look to books, articles, blogs, journals, Twitterfeeds, wikis, forms, templates, audio feeds, videos, anything informative that I can digest to me is a model or example. I love to see how other folks put their thinking together, how they organize it, how they articulate it. If I can’t get models and examples from those who have gone before me, I learn by trying to create models and examples myself. I create drafts of these models and share them with other people and get feedback. The feedback helps me stretch my thinking and develops my understanding.
- I need to talk out loud. Writing is a way of talking out loud for me and I learn a lot by writing out my thoughts, connections, ideas, and opinions. but I have to admit that I prefer face to face conversation. I definitely process my thinking through speaking out loud. One really great conversation can cause me to shift my thinking in infinite ways. If I don’t have anyone to speak with, I find that I do a lot of rehearsal in my own head space. This process shapes and refines my thinking and pushes me to a deeper level of understanding.
- I need to persist and practice. I have learned that I can grasp basic things pretty quickly. I can sometimes trick myself into thinking that I have really learned something. But, usually I only have a surface understanding of certain concepts, and sometimes that is enough. This can be problematic, because I can fool myself into thinking I have learned something when I really haven’t. I’ve learned I’m always better off after spending more time learning, than less.
- I need to test my learning. Finding an audience for me to share my learning is important. This way I get feedback, I get evaluative data, I get an opportunity to view my learning through the eyes of another. The hardest part about this sometimes is being vulnerable and open to constructive criticism and potential failure. I’ve learned that if I test my learning in small bites, I can scaffold my own vulnerability and risk. Plus, I have more opportunities to revise my thinking.
I wonder how well our students understand what they need to learn. I wonder if they know what they need to learn in one context transfers to another. I wonder if Shaun Koh will help others learn to be learners.
I wonder if we as educators spent time learning about how we learn if we would help students learn to be learners.