In this series on learner choice, recent posts have laid out our goal to identify and promote the practice of instilling learner choice and self direction within planned instruction.
Today’s post is an interview with Dr. Bernard Bull, Assistant Vice President of Academics & Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. Many thanks to Bernard, who is an exceptional resource for bringing together strands of thought and research on blended learning, self-direction, and working with educators to promote these ideas.
Check out his blog: Etale – Life and Learning in the Digital World
Terry: Could you discuss the types of freedom that learners could have in an educational experience, the notion that learners could have freedom in relation to “time, pace, place, and pathway”?
Bernard: That framework is a Michael Horn invention at the Clayton Christiensen Institute. That’s how they define Blended Learning. It relates to a concept that’s particularly important to me, the idea of Self-Blended Learning. (Bernard elaborated on this in his contributions to Self-Determined Learning: Huetagogy in Action, edited by Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon.) For me where it really started was taking this concept of Blended Learning, and then applying it to the research and writing I’ve been doing over the last three to four years on self-directed learning and human agency. By meshing those together, that’s where I really come across this concept that I am calling Self-Blended Learning. Some use self-blended to mean students taking a mix of online and face-to-face classes, but I’m using it differently. What I’m talking about is something much more focused on empowering people with the capacity to learn on their own.
Bernard mentions this diagram, which can also be seen on his blog.
Bernard: On the left are common questions that an effective teacher asks, and then on the right side I show what it looks like when it becomes more student-directed. For example, one teacher-directed question is “How will I know the students have learned it?”. On the right, students can say, “How will I know I’ve learned it?”. So there’s this ownership on their part.
For me the process comes out of this philosophical mindset. I align with the Transcendalists in terms of this idea of self-sufficiency, human agency and human capacity. (An article from Steve Hargadon helped Bernard connect Transcendalism to Self-Blended Learning.) So, my idea is that education is most effective when it’s equipping people to not need it any longer, that our goal as good teachers is to become increasingly less important as the student becomes more confident and competent. So when I heard about giving students some time/pace/place control over pathway, I thought that resonated well with this idea of Self-Blended Learning.
Terry: When talking about that kind of philosophy, it’s easy to understand in the framework of self-direction in lifelong learning, or something that exists outside of an educational program. How much more complex is it to talk about these things with educators, administrators, and instructional designers?
Bernard: It’s critical. Actually, this has been my niche. Part of my preparations have been to consider ideas from sources like the Unschooling and UnCollege movements, the Informal Learning movement, Jay Cross’s work on learning in the workplace, and all the learning that happens out in the wild. I then try to bring them back to more conventional schooling models. I take bite size pieces and offer them up for conversation. As long as I respect the fact that teachers and administrators have widely diverse views on education that are going to lead to different models of schooling, this is generally well received and everyone gets informed about the possibilities.
How do we know what the best direction is if we don’t know all the possible routes to get there? Let’s just trace out this map a little bit and see.
Terry: Does this work get down to the level of lesson planning and discussing specific activities that involve this kind of learner freedom?
Bernard: Yes. I use the diagram we discussed as a sort of cheat sheet to answer important questions: To what extent can I empower students to form their own goals? How will YOU know that you’ve learned this? How can we create an environment in which there are multiple pathways to learn?
Bernard lists several examples of this process in action in a blog post titled, “Beyond Blended Teaching to Self-Blended Learning.”
Terry: In that type of dialogue, students are being asked to engage metacognitively but not by reflecting after the fact. You’re asking them to engage directly in advance of the learning, to actually consider the next step.
Bernard: Yes, invite them to become their own instructional designers for their learning environment, to become learning architects. Let’s sit down and build out this map.
This is how people get really good at things. Research is clear on what makes many the best in the world at their craft. It’s through deliberate practice.
Thank you, Bernard!
In our next post, we’ll start looking at Ed Tech products and implementations that get learner choice into learning programs.