Bill Kerr has an interesting post over at his site. I’m not sure I understand it all…as a proponent of constructivist teaching in my youth, I came to understand teaching and learning a la constructivist approach as “To know is to know how to make.” But, it seems to me that in a connected world, this approach is insufficient. It’s not enough for me to know how to make.

It’s important that I know how to make with others across a distance, even if the collaborators are in different countries. BTW, this is one reason I think our schools won’t be able to keep up. Our schools are about teachers in classrooms doing their thing, albeit scripted and controlled by scope and sequence mandated by the District, which they interpreted from the State requisite knowledge and skills which will eventually be tested. Our teachers aren’t interested in reaching out to each other as classrooms…An altered, open re-configuration of the network of teacher-learners will yield rich, new perspectives runs into a few roadblocks:

  • Lots of teachers aren’t connected to the network
  • Lots of teachers don’t want to be connected to the network
  • Lots of teachers, even if connected to the network, have no idea how to connect their students
  • Lots of teachers who are connected learners have no way of enacting widespread educational reform at their campus, and/or their district.

While theories of human learning–behaviorism, constructivism, connectivism–make for nice blog discussion, I find that a part of me just wants to flick a switch and say, “You know, how the heck does any of this REALLY matter to a teacher in the trenches?” Then, I remember that it matters a whole heck of a lot. As bilingual/ESL teacher, believing in an -ism (constructivism in my case) gave me a sense of energy, passion, and general plan of attack to transform MY understanding of teaching and learning. It’s that process of transformation that is so darn critical, not what -ism you happen to subscribe to at a given time. The more I reflect on my early days as a teacher, later a facilitator of professional learning for teachers, and then architect of these types of experiences, I realize that it was the journey, the fervent desire to better understand teaching and learning that made me a good teacher…not the -ism I subscribed to.

My response to Bill Kerr follows, as I try to make sense of what he’s saying:

So, are you saying that while the -isms provide valuable insights into human learning, they are imperfect, undergo constant revision, and, as such, they only suffice as magnifying lens on a microscope? A way of understanding human learning?

What makes any -ism superior to another? Why should Siemen’s connectivism be any more than an exciting metaphor for human learning than constructivism? Is it only that one has been around longer than the other?

As we humanize machines, what it is to be human is explored more. I can be MORE human because a machine takes care of the drudgery of work.

Finally, how hard is it to debunk a learning theory? Learning theories seem to serve only insomuch as they help us get passionate about human learning and the possibility that we may be able to predict how people learn…but isn’t that process of learning individual? Shouldn’t any learning theory help us better enable people to learn individually? How can technology help us do that?


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