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Video & Tips

4 Learning Management System Design Tips For Better eLearning

What makes a good Learning Management System?

Creating a custom system can be a daunting task, and without the right planning, a simple project can turn into a big headache. Having helped a number of schools design and build custom systems, here are the four things I recommend considering when designing or adopting a Learning Management System.

4 Learning Management System Design Tips For Better eLearning

1. Focus on data–for both instructors and students 

We’re obsessed with data these days, and for good reason: it’s relatively easy to get if you know what you’re looking for. While you won’t be able to identify everything that’s useful upfront, take a step back, and evaluate what you’d hope to learn. Come up with a list of the information you need and a list of things you’d like to have. For example, do you need to know the average test score for students in History? What about attendance rates during the month of December?

Knowing what you’re looking for upfront helps you determine what specific information you’ll need to capture from your users.

2. Design for usability–make it ‘pleasurable’ to use

Once you know what you need users to tell you, you should make it easy for them to do so. Design each component of your LMS with usability in mind. Create a hierarchy of actions you need users to take, ranking them in order from essential to nonessential, and use prominent buttons, obvious links, and clean copy to direct people to them.

Also, take advantage of what’s out there. Things like social logins, video streaming, shared calendars, message boards, and forms are all commonplace on the web, and users know immediately what to do with them. Take inspiration from Google, Facebook, Microsoft Word, and others to learn the common themes of web interfaces and copy them. Your users will thank you.

For a great reference on designing easy-to-use interfaces, I recommend Stephen Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think.”

3. Plan for mobile from the very beginning

As of 2020, there are more than 14 billion mobile devices in use worldwide, a number that’s expected to grow to nearly 17 billion by 2023.

Further, more than half of all web traffic is mobile–which means that the likelihood that students, parents, faculty, and staff will need to use the LMS on a mobile device is relatively high. To optimize their experience, adopt a mobile-first design approach. Rather than building a full, standard website and then cutting features or scaling back functionality for a mobile version, start by focusing solely on how your LMS looks and works on mobile.

Ask yourself, what are the core tasks teachers, students, parents, administrators need to perform? What information and tasks need to be accessible at all times? How does information look on small screens? How do you interact with information?

It’s always easier to layer complexity for a desktop experience, but designing for mobile-first ensures a seamless experience for users—wherever they are.

4. Design curriculum and instruction with the strengths of your specific LMS in mind

Every platform is different and no single approach to LMS creation is perfect. Some work well as assessment software while others handle video better. Some or visual while others load quickly, are text-based, and use frequent lesson and page loading to move the student through material.

Whatever your approach, design what and how the students learn in cooperation with the strengths and abilities of the LMS rather than designing digital lessons and units and then shoe-horning them into whatever the LMS is able to do.

While the options for customization can be exciting, taking the time to consider these four things will help you build the system that meets your needs so that you can focus on the thing that matters most—providing a great education to students.

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HR and L&D

The Importance Of Intrinsic Motivation for Students

What motivates students?

And further, what motivates them to be engaged at school to master the objective you’ve chosen for them?

The answers here vary dramatically and can have a huge impact on each and every student.

Let’s start with the obvious line of answers. “Everyone goes to school,” or “everyone needs an education in this day and age.” Though there is a certain amount of truth to these cliched responses. But if one of these “‘cuz everyone does it” answers is the best reason a young person can present for attending school, it’s no wonder these same kids do not engage and simply do school because school is the done thing.

Senior students often invoke the mantra “I have to do well at school in order to get into university” when asked about reasons for attending and doing well. This can be a genuine motivational factor, especially in families where the expectation is academic and career success. But is this the answer we really want when we pose that question?  Doing well simply to get to the next level is fine when playing video games, but it hardly seems inspirational as an educational goal for a secondary school student.

There are myriad other reasons students give for attending school, all of them valid. As with any question around motivation, answers to this question can be divided into two categories: intrinsic reasons for attending school and extrinsic reasons. Anyone who’s read Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive’ or viewed the related TED Talk, understands that extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are not equal.

Prevalent assessment practices are the most obvious example of how we rely too heavily on extrinsic motivators. As long as we evaluate more than we assess–and as long as we provide grades more often than we provide feedback–student motivation will come from the collection of this ‘currency’ that we call marks. Those richest in this currency will be afforded the best opportunities come to the end of high school, an unfortunate fact. The students we label ‘mark sharks’ are simply the ones who have truly taken to heart our message that good grades (i.e. extrinsic rewards), as opposed to quality learning, are the primary goal of our educational systems.

Extrinsic motivators don’t get students truly engaged in their learning, they make school analogous to a job–something that has to be done. If we want our systems to be as strong as they can possibly be we need to explicitly foster an intrinsic motivation in each of our students.

Only students who are intrinsically motivated to be engaged in school will end up truly challenged, enriched, energized, and ultimately fulfilled by their experience. Yes, it’s an ideal–but it’s worth keeping in mind.

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Business

A Better Alternative To Grading Student Writing

This is a quick post that just occurred to me while writing about–well, writing about writing.

I was brainstorming ways to use technology to help students improve their writing and realized that over and over again, I was thinking about the process of writing and how crucial it is to quality of whatever the writer is left with at the end.

Great writing starts at the beginning, whether with an idea or need or purpose of social context or spark of inspiration. Whatever it is that ’causes’ the writing to begin–what’s wrought there at the beginning is kind of like a lump of clay. Without that clay, not much could happen and the quality of that clay matters; its texture and purity and consistency and overall makeup has a lot to say about what it’s able to produce. In large part, what you’re able to create with that clay depends on the quality and quantity of that clay.

The Purpose Of The Writing Process

Put another way, the writing process itself is everything. It doesn’t have to be used the same way every time and that’s another conversation for another day and I only mention it briefly because the worst thing you can do is read this post and then go shove the ‘diligence of the writing process’ down the throats of would-be writers/students who only need to believe they can write and then they opportunity to do so with in the company of nurturing.

All this leads me to the title. Instead of grading the end result of that process (the finished process), grade the quality of that student’s use of the writing process–ideally based on their specific strengths and weaknesses and the purpose and audience of the writing assignment itself.

Using The Writing Process

Using the writing process takes years of practice because producing great writing takes constant vision and refinement. It requires the writer to understand what they’re trying to say and then say it in a way that produces some effect on the world. Research, idea organization, paragraph structure, sentence instruction, diction, punctuation, rule-breaking, tone, literary devices–using these ideas to communicate complex ideas is hard work.

That’s why writing is less of an activity and more of a process not unlike the scientific process. While we might for professionals, it wouldn’t make much sense to grade children doing science by the accuracy of their data. Rather, their ability and tendency to use the scientific process to test theories and collect data would be far more important.

For amateurs in many fields, the process is far more important than the product.

If these goals (or those like them) are at least partly true, then a viable alternative to grading student writing is to grade if the student writes and how the student uses the writing process itself in a way that makes sense to them.

And in a way that shows ownership of that writing process that will endure long after they’ve left your classroom.

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Business

It’s Time To Think Differently About Writing In The Classroom

Among the biggest changes of modern academic standards is the shift in the burden of general literacy. Rather than only ‘writing teachers,’ teaching reading and writing, now all teachers across all content areas are being asked to do so (something we’ve talked about before).

In the past, literacy—the ability to read, write, and understand—has been the domain of the English-Language Arts teachers (and elsewhere in the world, Literature and Composition teachers).

Limiting the craft of writing to a single content area has altered the landscape of students’ minds in ways that are only now being revealed as math teachers are told to teach writing. Students are now used to flinging rudimentary understandings on exit slips in broken sentence fragments, taking notes that neatly curate other people’s ideas, and otherwise ducking the responsibility to craft compelling arguments that synthesize multiple perspectives on a daily basis.

So we—English-Language Arts teachers—respond by handing them fill-in-the-blank graphic organizers that coax them to give reason 1 reason 2 and reason 3 in clear sentences that shun complexity or intellectual endurance, provided their ‘writing’ adheres to an expected form.

And handing those same graphic organizers out when other content area teachers ask for resources.

Now, generations later, the idea of writing about math or science seems not just challenging, but forced and awkward. Science and Math, properly taught, are more akin to philosophies and ways of making sense of the world than “content areas,” offering an infinite number of prompts to spur students to write.

This is the 21st-century, and 21st-century thinking is different.

While it is full of connectivity and collaboration and stunning possibility, the 21st-century learning era is one of infatuation with image, visual spectacle, flashing alerts, endlessly accessible whimsy, and cognitively stunted communication patterns.

And in capable response, writing could be the answer we’ve been looking for, right beneath our noses the whole time.

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Business

Back To School Social-Emotional Basics: Relationship, Rhythm, Release

As our elementary students head back to school in person, in this very new way, there will be many emotions stirred up in them. Alarm. Frustration. Worry. Excitement. 

And this will be mirrored by what we, as adults, may also be experiencing. For our teachers, on top of what they will be emotionally experiencing themselves, they are being called to be the caring leaders that guide our students to a place where they can learn together.

This is going to be a challenging dance. Our teachers are true change makers. They are providers and they are leaders and this period in history is going to shine a light on their vital role in our children’s emotional health.

So, how can we support them to support our children’s learning? As parents and school administrators, we can relax about the ‘learning’ and trust it will come. Schools are going to need to change the focus right now to concentrating on the emotional basics before academic basics. Teachers teach people, not subjects. And when they can focus on supporting well-being first, the learning may then have an opportunity to land. 

Let’s take a closer look at the 3 R’s of emotional basics:

Relationship

What our students need from us is..us. They need to know we are there for them, and that they matter. It’s not so much about what we say—it’s about how we make them feel in our presence: invited, accepted, and seen. 

During this emotionally turbulent time, we will need to make conscious invitations into relationship so that our students can feel connected to us. This might mean special greeting rituals at the beginning of each day and more playful activities in which we join in. These attachment practices can help our students to feel connected to us, which may also lower their anxiety. 

Rhythm

Children crave rhythm.

Consistent routines, rituals, and structures help children feel safe. They can lean on these and rely on them. Yet most children are experiencing the exact opposite right now. And as they look to returning to school, they may have little to no sense of what the ‘new normal’ will be.  We can create a sense of safety by quickly establishing new routines that our students can count on and orient around. This will help to produce a rhythm to their days and can offer a sense of predictability in these unpredictable times.

Release

Our students’ emotions will be stirred up. And we know that when emotions get stirred up, they need somewhere to go. Finding healthy ways to pre-emptively channel this emotional energy for our students can help to alleviate dangerous or disruptive eruptions. Integrating daily outlets for release can be especially helpful for supporting students to get out frustration before it leads to outbursts of aggression.

These outlets can also help students to reflect on and express their feelings in ways that don’t make them feel self-conscious. The beauty of this practice is that we don’t even have to know what is specifically going on for a child. We are simply facilitating a way for the emotion to be expressed and released indirectly in a natural way—whether through music, physical movement, stories or storytelling, writing, poetry, drama, art, or even simply being outdoors. All of these outlets are powerful because they help us come closer to our feelings and to experiencing a sense of release and emotional rest.

Going back to school during this time will not be easy. We will need to be creative and think outside the box. We may need to stretch muscles we never knew we had. But it may be helpful to remember that this is not a time to focus on outcome and performance, or getting ahead or even catching up. Shifting our attention to matters of the heart will help our students feel safe. This is what will set the stage for learning to happen – when children are ready.

In the meantime, let’s be patient with our students and ourselves. We are all in this together.

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Video & Tips

The Challenge Of Global Learning In Public Education

For every person reading this quick preview, probably 18 more skimmed right past, busy trying to survive right here, right now. This makes sense.

Even when it does get attention, it is often bursting with rhetoric and emotion—discussed in tones of enthusiasm (we should do it—the students deserve it!) and grey stereotypes (we Zoom’d with a classroom in Peru last week—if that’s not global, I don’t know what is).

In high-stakes testing environments prevalent in many formal learning institutions, the focus is on standards and standard-mastery. ‘Globalization’ is a haughty kind of ‘pie in the sky’ idea thought about only when watching one of the “Shift Happens” videos on YouTube, or daydreaming on the drive home from a challenging day in the classroom where there is time to honestly reflect on—in solitude—the kind of education teachers can only dream they could provide students.

Now over a decade into the 21st century, there is tremendous pressure for education to ‘globalize.’ What this means exactly isn’t universally agreed upon.

Does Globalization Play A Role In Learning?

For education, globalization is the natural macro consequence of meaningful micro placement.

Globalizing a curriculum isn’t (initially) what it might seem. To globalize, start small—with the self.

Now over a decade into the 21st century, there is tremendous pressure for education to ‘globalize.’ What this means exactly isn’t universally agreed upon. In major world markets, the business world globalized decades ago, expanding beyond domestic markets in pursuit of more diverse audiences and stronger profits.

And while major players in business continue to experiment and find their way in markets whose culture and buying practices diverge from those domestic, the ‘field’ of education has been slow to follow suit.

This is made all the more strange by the relationship between education and economic systems. If one goal of education is to prepare a ‘workforce,’ the more parallel the system of education is with the workforce, the less ‘waste’ there might be. While industrialism, commercialism, religion, and technology all reach out across political and geographical borders, education lags awkwardly behind.

The most startling reality here might be the jarring power of juxtaposition: stakeholders in education everywhere struggle for change—meaningful, sustained movement in a new direction–yet within education overall, there is relatively little progress compared to tangent fields, including science, technology, entertainment, and business.

For education, somewhere there is a tether, likely rooted in sentimentality and disconnection. The learning process has become so culturally detached from the communities it is designed to serve that families are no longer sure what quality education looks like, resulting in blind trust of an education system that struggles itself to plan, measure, and remediate learning, all the while families stand aside unsure of their role.

Defining Global Learning

Globalization is less a singular initiative than it is the effect of a thousand initiatives, many of which are currently under-developed. When defining a ‘global curriculum,’ one issue that must be confronted is the issue of perspective: Do we all have the same definition of ‘global,’ and do we understand the word “curriculum” on common ground?

In brief, let’s agree that in this context, ‘global’ is a word that describes anything that is truly worldwide in its awareness, interdependence, and application. Right away, the scale of any such endeavor should appear, at best, intimidating, and, at worst, impossible with any degree of intimacy. Beyond that which is geologic and atmospheric, few things can truly maintain wholeness while being ‘global.’ Global implies a scale that’s not just ambitious and comprehensive, but truly inclusive by definition. Things can’t be ‘partially global’ any more than the lights can be partially turned on.

So if ‘global’ is fully interdependent and inclusive, what about the curriculum part? For the purpose of this piece, we’ll say that a curriculum is intentionally designed of learning content and experiences. It may be more or less planned and scripted, created backward from a sort of curriculum map into units, lessons, and activities, or far more open as ‘learning pathways,’  each a different style of curriculum. To clarify, learning standards such as the Common Core are not curriculum, but are rather ingredients with which you can create your own.

So what then does a ‘global curriculum’ require and imply? And how do we get there from here?

The term ‘global’ tends toward business, marketing, and technological connotation, which is always dangerous. The ambition of business leaders, technology inventors, and scientists alike shows less respect for the practical than the possible. While exciting in theory, it flaunts a hubris that should serve as a warning for fields with much more to lose than money or shareholders.

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Video & Tips

Exactly How Technology Can Make Reading Better

Reading is just the communication of ideas through alphanumeric symbols. I’m not sure what this represents such hallowed ground for teachers, but it does. Personally I’d be more concerned with reading habits, reasons for reading, the quality of reading materials, etc. Symbols change, forms change, media change. See the gif and memes and language and acronyms that become words and words that become metaphors again. This is your audience, and these are the symbols they gravitate towards.

With more personalization, more access, and more connectivity, we should be creating a generation of close-readers that can’t get enough. So if we’re not, the question is, why isn’t that happening? The pieces are there.

Technology Makes Reading Better. Here’s Exactly How.

1. Social readers are connected readers

Through apps with social components, readers can be connected through texts. Reading groups, reading contests, reasons for reading, book suggestions, building social credibility for the process of reading, and more are possible when reading is, at least on some level, a social act.

No, we don’t always ‘need to be connected.’ This isn’t an either/or circumstance, however. We can be alone with our book and then socialize our reaction to the book. We can get an idea for a book and then be alone to read, then socialize again after. We can ‘socialize’ an idea and gain background knowledge for a certain chapter in a book, then read alone and not ‘socialize’ at all after. The point is, we can choose who we don’t and don’t socialize with, when, and how.

We have the choice.

2. Adaptive learning algorithms can lead to personalization

With adaptive learning algorithms, readers can have the pace, diversity, complexity, and form of their reading materials personalized instantly.

3. Increased access & choice

Through digital storefronts, free eBooks, RSS feeds, social magazines, and more, there has never been a time where students had more content at their fingertips. Like this book using an eReader like Kindle or iBooks? Here are 25 just like it.

Also, here are 10 other authors that those who liked this book also liked.

And here are 750 reviews that you can sift through to get a feel for what other people think. And please, download a free sample of any book you’d like.

And it’s easier than ever to publish, so while that means there’s more garbage out there, there’s also more variety. Fanfiction has exploded. If you can’t find something you like, you’re not trying.

4. Technology can distract, technology can focus

Technology can allow readers to annotate texts and share notes, which is physically interactive and ‘social.’ There are also apps–white noise apps, for example–that can block out class distractions, and more. Before you blame technology for ‘distracting’ students, make sure you’re honest with yourself about how focused they were without the tech.

5. Technology makes learning easier

Let’s breaking reading up into three separate categories: Before Reading, During Reading, and After Reading.

During each of these times, readers have different needs.

Before Reading: A young reader starting a story set in a different culture may benefit from watching a YouTube video about that culture, or reading a quick Wikipedia overview about it.

During Reading: A high school student reading a poem may want to Google the literary allusions in that poem to make better sense of what they’re reading.

After Reading: A PhD student may want to check previous studies by that study’s authors to evaluate some claim being made–or to follow up on some other data point found in the study to learn more.

The point is, technology (used well) improves ‘sensemaking.’ No, it’s not absolutely necessary in the same way that I don’t need to drive a car to drive to Henry County, Kentucky. I could walk if I wanted–and there are benefits to walking. Cars aren’t ‘superior.’ But because of that technology, I have the opportunity.

6. Analytics can personalize the mechanics of reading

Analytics can be, well, analyzed for the practice of reading—time spent reading, how often readers clicked on certain words, etc. I know this is vague. I’m not a reading specialist or an app developer. The point is that data can be used to keep all readers in their ‘literacy sweet spot,’ supporting struggling readers, challenging advanced readers, and offering choice to grade-level readers.

7. Texts can have their levels adjusted instantly

Take the data from #6, and you’ve got a powerful combination. This means less or more complex sentence structure, syntax, vocab, etc. Platforms like Epic reader and news-o-matic make it easier to match a reader to a text level, as do a variety of apps and desktop programs.

And using eReader apps, students can touch a word and get its definition instantly. Not that they necessarily will, mind you–close reading is still a matter of will. But they can.

8. Reading speed is more ‘visible’

With apps that allow the practice of sight words, others created expressly to increase reading speed, and others that measure time spent reading, words read per minute, and more, more than ever reading speed is visible, and higher reading speeds generally translates to increased comprehension.

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HR and L&D

Why Public Schools Should Continue To Use Remote Learning

This is a quick, simple post. It’s late Tuesday night and my kids need a bath–and, well, this isn’t complicated: public schools in the United States need to continue to use remote learning in the 2020-2021 school year.

I know it’s not that simple. As I wrote late last week in Teachers Are Suddenly On The Frontlines In The Fight Against COVID-19, teachers are now in a kind of morass. As COVID-19 rages in the United States with no signs of easing up soon, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have recently begun an aggressive push to open school buildings in the fall.

While the negative effects of remote learning have been well-explored, few things are all bad. We’ve mentioned that the long-term effects of remote learning have some benefits. Mark Siegel, Assistant Headmaster at Delphian School, talked about how remote learning can give parents a closer look at what their children are actually learning.

“There’s a potential benefit, too, in that many parents now have a chance to better and more fully understand their children’s education–what they’re being taught and how they’re doing in basic subjects. After going through all this, they might feel more confident taking the reins of education in their children’s lives. And as parents reclaim the role of teacher, at least to a degree, children might look again to their parents for direction and knowledge.”

Again–I’m just exploring one side of this. There’s simply so much to consider. But while I do believe that re-opening school buildings in the United States in the fall of 2020 is dangerous in terms of COVID, this post isn’t about the epidemiology. Rather, it’s about the existing momentum–in lieu of the often significant failures and shortcomings–that’s been created with remote learning so far.

So, a few statements.

7 Reasons Schools Should Continue To Use Remote Learning In The United States

I. The near-future of learning is almost certainly blended learning–a mix of digital and face-to-face instruction.

II. By moving to remote learning, schools have had to take stock in resources–and resource deficits–necessary to meaningfully integrate eLearning in pursuit of remote learning.

III. This process has forced curriculum (what’s being learned), instruction (how it’s being taught), and supporting resources (e.g., Zoom and Microsoft Teams) to be designed–and re-designed–to work together.

IV. This process has been slow and clumsy and likely resulted in ‘learning loss.’ But ‘loss’ compared to what? Being in a safe physical space–one that won’t likely exist for 6+ months?

V. In that respect, it’s possible to consider what we’re doing as part of an ‘implementation dip’–a temporary loss before a larger gain.

VI. Of course, no one knows what will happen in the future with COVID-19 or with remote learning and its long-term effects. I am not championing it as particularly effective or innovative. What I’m suggesting is that we’ve already experienced the loss and have begun to adapt.

And considering that the near-future of learning is likely blended, it just might make sense to continue down this path even if school buildings can safely re-open in the fall (which seems unlikely). These buildings can still support students who need the support of these spaces and the resources of the schools and the socialization of their peers–it just doesn’t have to look like the school they remember.

VII. I know this is all unlikely to occur but I thought it should be said: The near-future of learning is blended and we’ve spent a century developing the brick-and-mortar spaces.

Maybe we can spend another six or eight months developing the digital ones, too–and not as an aside, but as the focal point of a more personalized learning experience.

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HR and L&D

The Definition Of Synchronous Learning

Short version: As a general rule, Synchronous Learning occurs when students learn the same thing at the same time–online or offline.

In The Definition Of Asynchronous Learning, I offered that asynchronous learning was when students learned the same thing at different times. Obviously there’s more to it than that but that’s the gist of it in most digital classrooms and related learning environments. The big idea is ‘together’ (an idea that often implies ‘same’).

What Is Synchronous Learning?

What is synchronous learning? Synchronous learning is when students learn the same thing at the same time–through a lecture (online or in-person), for example. Synchronous learning is a kind of ‘group learning’ that happens in a way that’s unified by time and space–that is, students generally learn the same or similar content at more or less the same time and generally the same place.

As opposed to asynchronous learning, synchronous learning is characterized by the theme of togetherness and all of the pros and cons that a large group of people doing something together brings with it. If you think of these as features or constraints–namely time, place, and pace (that is when learning happens, where it happens, and who controls the pace of that learning) is a matter of how you frame it all–your biases and experiences and so on. But in a nutshell, that’s the definition of synchronous learning.

Synchronous Learning Online Or Off: eLearning vs In-Person

Traditionally, asynchronous and synchronous learning are thought of as types of eLearning, but most physical, brick-and-mortar classrooms that feature lecture, group discussion, and collaborative activities are all technically ‘synchronous.’ This is in contrast to a self-directed learning environment where students learned ‘independently’ of one another–especially the same content, which would technically be asynchronous.

Wikipedia explains that “students watching a live web stream of a class, while simultaneously taking part in a discussion. Synchronous learning can be facilitated by having students and instructors participate in a class via a web conferencing tool. These synchronous experiences can be designed to develop and strengthen instructor-student and student-student relationships, which can be a challenge in distance learning programs.”

While historically, most eLearning was necessarily asynchronous, the growth of computer technology–including bandwidth, video streaming, messaging and chat, social media, and more–has allowed online learning to become more synchronous. This places it more in line with the face-to-face instruction occurring in most schools and districts in K-12 today. Online synchronous learning has disadvantages (which include new dynamics for student engagement, classroom management, and personalization of learning), but also advantages including new definitions for community, new possibilities for backchannel discussion, and the ability to record and replay learning experiences over time.

We will follow up on examples of synchronous learning in a follow-up post but a few include quizzes, most classroom activities, classroom lecture (online or offline), face-to-face group discussion, in-person, collaborative project-based learning, debate, Socratic discussion, timed learning sessions or formal assessment-as-learning (testing), and more.

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Business

Creating Students Who Solve Problems

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The next time you are teaching a lesson, count how many questions students are asked.

When students are herded and corralled into the narrow chute of standardized testing, they are so heavily indoctrinated with fear of failure that only a fool would dare venture off the beaten path. We are, after all, talking about young people, and can hardly expect them to rebel against it (considering this may make you rethink those students who actually do). The consequences of straying are so fierce: the promise of no job; the shame of failure; the ire of the school. It is no wonder then that students are afraid to take risks and think for themselves, and why inevitably so many unnecessary questions are asked.

To add insult to injury, when governments decide in their wisdom that the solution to ensuring progress in education is to standardize testing even more, they force schools to constrict curricula further. They reduce the opportunities to explore creativity in subjects. They trim a course down to its quantitative shell, and by doing so reduce a student’s opportunities to develop problem-solving strategies. Essentially, they force schools to produce hydroponic students.

Teaching Students In Authentic Contexts

Whilst using hydroponics to grow fruit and vegetables seems like the golden ticket to solving the world’s food problems, the method, while yielding ostensibly larger and faster produce, is significantly flawed in three ways: first, the final product lacks real nutrient and substance, and ultimately taste.

Secondly, the plant itself grows in a very unnatural and toxic state, absorbing inordinate quantities of chemicals and pesticides to control it at every turn, which must affect its overall enjoyment in growing, and thirdly, once the plant is gone and the process is over, it leaves no positive legacy – in fact, it depletes the ground around it. When students are taught in unnatural conditions, with the sole purpose of producing quantifiable results, they too suffer in three similar ways:

First, when they finish their education with a whole lot of credentials, (if they have managed to get through the system), they may lack any real depth of knowledge and any ability to problem solve. This is because the learning has been too shallow, only concentrating on aspects of a course that need to be learned for standardized testing. Like the roots of the hydroponic plant, the brain’s synapses aren’t encouraged to expand and strengthen because there isn’t any opportunity or need to do so. The more prescriptive the learning, the less chance the student has to wander off the path, and get dirty, and find solutions to get out of the mud. Necessity is the mother of invention, but when students aren’t ever given such chances, they lose the capacity to think on their feet, and eventually, to think for themselves in most situations.

Secondly, if students are encased day after day in the confines of the school building, seated for extraordinary long periods of time in rows of desks, and ushered from class to lunch to class under the strict timings of bells, the process of distancing the young from their natural condition is well underway. If students are doused with pointless and irrelevant information disguised as learning, it is obvious that they won’t enjoy school.  

Teaching Curiosity

Even well-meaning teachers can fall foul to the system, themselves operating in fear of not covering the required territory. In fact, it’s an impossible feat to teach the amount of stipulated material of most subjects to any level of depth to the average class. To curb the natural inclination of students to disengage in such a learning context, schools superficially inoculate their students with countless tirades, warning against disengagement and punishing culprits in attempts to quell it. It is no wonder that students can feel that their paths in learning and growth have become stifled and one-directional and oppressed. It is no wonder they rarely if ever connect learning with happiness.

Thirdly, because of the shallowness of the learning required for standardized tests, and the lack of base in the knowledge creation, the transference of the learning into new contexts is limited. The process yields little reward after the examination period, and does little to sustain the learner, or indeed the community around him or her. The student raised in the hothouse of standardized testing struggles to think outside the box, to solve new problems and ultimately flourish and contribute to a rapidly changing 21st century world.

The emerging adult is certainly not going to bud and inspire the next generation, but instead depend upon and drain the world around it to keep it alive.