Lifelong learning is essential. Alvin Toffler was a writer, businessperson, and futurist. He is quoted as having said something to the effect of literacy in the 21st Century will depend upon one’s ability to learn, unlearn, and re-learn. He is right, and I argue that this three-phase process of learning is what will drive creativity, innovation, and artistry in the future. Yet, so many people struggle with this notion of learning. They are becoming truly illiterate because of their lack of recognition of the need to constantly engage in meaningful learning. One element that works against them is that they have been conditioned to buy into a type of faux learning—learning that is artificial, inauthentic, and not particularly valuable. In this article, I address the need to spot faux learning, to stop it, and to improve. In doing so, lifelong learning can be enhanced. Spottin’ Faux Learning Faux learning often is propagated by formal educational structures, but it bleeds over into lifelong learning and people’s daily beliefs. Consider the following two types of faux learning that you might be able to spot in your own history. Memorization as Faux Learning. Memorization seems to be highly prized among people even today. If, for instance, a young student memorizes, say, the fifty states and their capitals or grammar rules for when to use a comma, that student’s parents and teachers often take great comfort and satisfaction in the fact that the child is “learning.” Two points about this comfort and satisfaction should call it into question. First, ask yourself: In an age of Google, to what extent is memorizing information even mildly valuable? Is that what a learned person is—a human Google? Given that we have any piece of information that we could ever want in our pockets, to memorize is a type of faux learning. In fact, many educational psychologists no longer classify the memorization of information as meaningful human learning. Second, consider that memorization (remembering) is very different from even understanding. We could, for instance, memorize poems phonetically in another language. That does not mean we understand the words we are saying or poetic significance in the poem. Memorization is very different from being able to apply the content that has been memorized. Consider the student who has been asked to memorize the rules for using semi-colons in a sentence. We make a mistake to assume that one who has memorized those rules then can apply those memorized rules to write more technically-accurate sentences. Grades as Faux Indicators of Learning. Throughout my career, I have asked dozens of audiences to consider two simple questions:
How many of you have made a high grade on a test, yet your first thought upon seeing that grade was, “Wow, did I pull the wool over this teacher’s eyes! I haven’t learned this content at all”?
How many of you have ever gotten a report card with a low mark on it and your first thought was, “This is so unjust. I actually learned quite a lot in that course”?
Having asked these two questions (and variations thereof) to dozens of audiences, I will tell you that most every hand in the room goes up on the first question; and, on average, 50% of hands go up on the second question. Well, if either question is true for you, then do you not have anecdotal evidence to help you consider that grades and learning are two very different things? Getting good grades often is not a matter of learning but of “playing the game” of school. As a third question, consider: When you were in school, did you ever have a strong idea for an essay or project, but you recognized it would be harder to get a good grade on that project with your idea; thus, you did something simpler that better conformed to the parameters of what the teacher wanted? If so, then I would suggest that grades caused you to bypass learning in the name of conformity. Stoppin’ the Faux In short, the best way to stop faux learning is to not give it oxygen. It’s that easy. In your own role, do not be guilty of allowing faux learning to breathe as something worthy of our pursuit. Parents can help their children think about true learning and reward those children for deeper consideration of ideas. Teachers can stop giving assignments that merely aim students toward the accumulation of points based on information memorized. Business leaders can recognize that a GPA on a resume may well not be the best criteria for hiring new employees. Be aware of faux learning and smother it when you can. Improvin’ toward Meaningful Learning It would be impossible in such a short article for me to point to all the different types of meaningful learning. But, in what follows, I offer a few points of advice that can help you and those around you aim toward genuine learning that is meaningful. Don’t demonize failure. Failure is integral to meaningful learning. When we demonize failure as something to be avoided, we teach people to never aim for that which is beyond their current skill or thought level. Instead of demonizing failure, those who aim for meaningful learning reflect on it and ask themselves how their failures can become lessons for stronger achievement. So, stop seeing failure as an end-point worthy of criticizing and start seeing it as yet another step in the learning process. Stop focusing on Measures. Grades, test scores, and other measures of learning should not be your focus. Instead, focus on the feelings of satisfaction and unfulfillment in your own learning pursuits. If your efforts to learn feel unfulfilling, then you likely have not yet maximized your potential in an area of achievement. If you feel some sense of satisfaction, then celebrate that before digging in to push harder. See “Doing” as Your Learning Path. People often see learning as something separate from doing. In terms of lifelong learning, doing is your best path toward learning. If you want to, say, learn how to repair small engines, head to your garage; start tinkering with your lawnmower. If you want to learn more about art, then take up painting or other artistic pursuits. Do not see learning as something that happens separate from your everyday existence. Rather, craft your everyday existence so that you have experiences that point you toward “doing” what it is that you want to learn. Unlearn Your Past. This article has focused a bit on what happens in schools. That’s normal, as schools often set the tone for our understanding of learning. But, now as you move into the realm of lifelong learning, you have to unlearn the damage of the past—the over-focus on faux learning that you’ve experienced. Set the faux learning aside and aim yourself toward a magical future where you revel in the process of failing, learning from the failure, and trying again. The best way to improve your learning is to be brave and never give up.
By Dr. Dave Knowlton co-host Learning Vibes Podcast Twitter: @KnowltonDS
Have you listened to the June 1st episode? Have you read the blog post about Elbert Cox? If either of these answers are no, go back and listen or read. However, if both of the answers are yes, that you are up to date on the hidden curriculum.
As a reminder: A social justice educator is an educator who has dedicated their life to implementing change and reform in schools. The term social justice means redefining what it means to have educational equality. A social justice educator demands equity for all students, but is also focused on personal growth that is led by student diversity. One portion of being a social justice educator is ensuring hidden curriculum is eradicated from classroom discourse.
As described in the June 1 episode, Dr. Degner and Mrs. Crowson identify as Social Justice educators on their own journeys of discovery, implementation, and learning.
Today we are going to learn about another mathematician. A good mathematician who learned of his mistake. Specifically, Dr. DJ Patil. Below is the story written by Dr. Degner.
Dr. DJ Patil served in President Obama's administration as the United States first Chief Data Scientist.
Patil is the person who came up with the term "big data" that you read about and looked at in the last section.
As part of his work as the US Chief Data Scientist Patil started the Police Data Initiative, at the request of President Obama. As part of this program Patil collected and analyzed data sets about police stops and searches, uses of force, officer-involved shootings, or other police actions. Patil shared these data sets openly with police departments and US citizens. Patil saw that data helped track law enforcement actions’ disproportionate interactions with minorities, the poor and those with mental health concerns. Some police agencies in the United States used this data to try to develop more fair practices within their police departments. The program Patil started in 2015 is now called the Data-Driven Justice Initiative.
By Dr. Anni Reinking Co-Host Learning Vibes Podcast @AKReinking