If you look into what elements create the best learning environment, what things need to be true if the learner is going the get the most out of a learning situation, you’ll find that these are near the top of the list: control over what you’re doing, direct and immediate feedback, interest in the matter/material, and choice.
These should appear to be pretty self-evident, intuitively obvious, I think. If you are trying to learn something and it’s something you actually have an interest in, you chose to pursue it in general and at this specific time, you are able to adjust what you’re doing on your own and control the experience and you get feedback immediately as to how you’re doing so that you can adjust and correct… well, you’re likely to at least have a decent shot at having some actual learning take place. This doesn’t mean success. You may find that you struggle with this particular thing you’re wanting to learn, maybe you just aren’t very good at it naturally. You’ll have some choices to make about continuing the pursuit.
Ideal conditions don’t mean that learning will be effortless, simple or even guaranteed. What ideal conditions mean is that “if you’re going to learn it, this is the best way”.
Consider traditional schools. How do they measure against these elements of optimal learning conditions or environments?
Ah, not so good, right? Do traditional schools provide the opportunity to engage in what you wish to according to your interest? No, there’s a academic curriculum, a timeline for advancing through it, and daily/weekly schedules/timetables. You are marched through it, regardless of whether you’re interested or not. Do these schools allow for immediate feedback? No, you’re talked at and expected to understand and recall. You are passive in the learning process. Is there any control over what you’re learning? Of course not, it’s decided and planned for you. It’s not about you, it’s about the material, the course, the subject and “getting through it”. And of course you have no choice along the way… high school, where you get a few choices about courses, but then that’s the end of it, the rest of the experience gives you no choice.
How did this happen? Why is it that we know very well from the field of psychology how people learn best yet our traditional schools are based on a model that has nothing to do with this?
In the coming days I’ll explore what schools could look like if they took into consideration just these simple elements of optimal learning.
Again, we need school experiences that help us to become ready for the living of life, not that help us to be good at school.