How we can actually create lifelong learners – a response

Wondering: so is this the answer?

I read this post because I was intrigued by the title. And it was a link provided by Edutopia, so I figured it would likely be worth my while.  Well, I have to admit I was a little disappointed and a few hours later after I thought about it some more, I found myself actually somewhat bothered.

The blog post bears the title: How We Can Actually Create Lifelong Learners and within a  couple of short paragraphs we learn that the author has found the key in his district’s 1:1 iPad program.  The program is in its 4th year and where they previously failed to produce lifelong learners, they now are regularly hitting home runs through the addition of these versatile gadgets which allow them to (finally) offer student-centered learning and to abandon that traditional instruction model of teaching as telling.

While I do not wish to discount the perceived advances achieved with students as seen through the author’s eyes, I do question the assumptions made about lifelong learners, past, present and future.

After lamenting having fallen short of the lofty goal of creating lifelong Learners over the years, he says this:

However, after all these years I now see that we have been working extremely hard and not realizing the benefits we should because the right tool hadn’t been developed yet for the job. I’m now enjoying the most exciting times of my career because I see that the dream of developing lifelong learners can be a reality.

“I was blind but now I see”? Is that what’s going on here? First of all, the presumption that teachers “create” lifelong learners leads us to the wrong river. We may inspire, foster, encourage, or further lifelong learning and learners, but we do not create them.
Concerning education outcomes, much  remains in the realm of the unknown and unknowable. Cause and effect are not readily obvious even if we often behave as if they were. We easily mistake correlation for cause and a particular outcome for the effect. And yet our perceptions are so uniquely and spectacularly flawed on many occasions. (See Daniel Kahnemann on this topic). What we teach and what our students “learn” can be wildly different depending on whom you ask and when. So how do we know which of our students have become the desired “lifelong learners”? What are the criteria? And at which stage in their development can we make that assessment? Upon admission to college? After grad school? When they become the helicopter parents we dread? When can we say, “here’s the lifelong learner I educated”?

Please let’s give ourselves and our students a break. In the quest for fostering lifelong learning in our students, it seems to me that the best we can do is to model it. We need to demonstrate our struggles and successes in striving to become the people we most wish to be. We need to make our mistakes and admit them and be able to move beyond them. To do this means making ourselves vulnerable. We can create student-centered learning opportunities that are meaningful, differentiated and engaging both with cool technologies and without.

I challenge us all to bear this in mind as we connect with each of our students daily. The learning is happening on many levels with each individual in multiple ways. At some point we need to give in to that mystery and have faith that our own contribution to the mix is helping, not harming; empowering, not impeding.

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