Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What is the argument against traditional learning?

Though mass education is only 150 years old, the problem with “lecture and test” teaching was recognised 2000 years ago. "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." Plutarch (46 - 127)

Mass education was modelled on the economies of scale of industry, it is a cost effective way to achieve standardised test scores but these test scores have an uncertain relationship with life skills. Mass education serves a second function, it “warehouses” children, freeing adults to work in industry. The apprenticeship or situated learning which works for cottage industry is less appropriate for industrialised society.

Mass education has not recently become broken, it has always been a substandard institution. What has changed is that computers now offer alternative ways of learning. Computer games use effective learning strategies which we can build on. They also offer opportunities for situated learning and problem based learning.

Average combined mathematics literacy scores and problem-solving scores of 15-year-old students, by country: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/quarterly/vol_6/6_4/2_2.asp#Table_B are interesting.

Standardised testing has developed to meet the needs of industrialised mass schooling, it does not necessarily reflect the skills that children need to acquire. Differences between countries may well reflect cultural and economic differences rather than differences in the educational systems.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada score significantly higher than USA despite sharing similar cultural backgrounds. I have noticed a significant difference, USA educators are more focussed on the transfer of knowledge than the development of problem solving skills through self-directed, problem based learning.

To back this claim, I have searched several keywords with Google Trends http://www.google.com/trends

If you search “instruction” USA cities fill all 10 top places, the same with “test scores”, the same with “standardized test” (note, non-US spelling “standardised” does not have enough search volume to show graphs)

If you search “constructivism”, Australia and New Zealand cities fill 5 places and USA 2 “problem based learning”, Australia 3, USA 2, “constructivism “ Australia/Canada 3, USA 4, “problem solving” Australia & New Zealand 6, USA 0, “metacognition” Australia & Canada 4, USA 6.

I believe that computers and computer games give us opportunities to offer self directed, problem based learning to students. The superiority of this learning has long been recognised. The analysis of standardised testing by country is problematic, the test scores are an imperfect measure of desired outcomes and they reflect cultural differences as well as educational differences. They do however offer circumstantial evidence of the failure of an Instructionist education model compared to a Constructivist model.

5 Comments:

Blogger Bill Kerr said...

Has Australia built the worlds first "web2.0" school? Greg Whitby talk

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 1:10:00 AM  
Blogger Tony Forster said...

Google Trends for Web2.0, all 10 Japan

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 8:59:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Kerr said...

i'm reluctant to generalise about the american or any other education system ,it's important to look hard at the diversity, coutnercurrents and resistance within countries too - so I take your stats with a grain of salt

however, i just came across a critique of the american education system by alan kay, which is interesting:
"In American schools today, parents and school boards would fire any teacher who was found to be illiterate (though they don't try very hard to find them), but are quite happy to have their children taught by teachers who don't understand even one important idea of mathematics and science. In part, this is because American parents and school boards are mostly composed of citizens who are the product of American education and have no strong background in areas that were poorly taught when they were in school. And the teachers are also mostly a product of this poor education process, so most of them have no idea of what is being missed. And so on, generation after generation.

There are books about how to learn all this in the thousands of free libraries in the United States. But if you haven't learned the discernment to use libraries and don't have a hint of what you are missing, you have to be a pretty special type to find a way into these ideas by yourself. The Internet is now starting to bring the libraries of powerful ideas into the home, but most people will still need the discernment and the hints to provide the motivation for exploring ideas that require some effort to learn"
- background on how children learn

I left a comment on Stephen Downes blog today complaining about his generalisation that behaviourism has been rejected for 30 years.

Thursday, December 21, 2006 12:15:00 AM  
Blogger WizardL said...

A time ago I have came across with Baltie ( http://www.baltie.com ). He's a small magican for teaching programming not by writing text-code but using images as commands. We have started using it in our school 3 years ago and we have a huge response - (see what my son has done http://www.sgp.cz/cz/video/4BaltiesMsg.wmv ).

Monday, January 08, 2007 4:33:00 AM  
Blogger Tony Forster said...

thanks for the Baltie link

Monday, January 15, 2007 9:16:00 PM  

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