Learning to Learn – International Perspectives

Learning to learn is crucial for success in our complex, unpredictable and data-drenched world.

L2LfrontcoverThis new book from members of the Learning Emergence Network explores learning to learn from theory and practice around the world.  See our people pages for many of the authors. 

Learning to learn is both a process and an outcome of formal education, along with other trans-disciplinary and life-wide competences. It goes deep into pedagogy and practice and is influenced by culture and context. As an outcome, it is a competence we aspire to measure and celebrate.

Learning how to learn is a crucial competence for human flourishing in 21st century conditions of risk and uncertainty.  It is one of eight key competencies identified by the European Union as a key goal within the Lisbon and the 2020 strategies (European Council 2006). The European Union maintains a keen interest in this topic as demonstrated by the European network of policy makers and several working groups on key competencies, including the creation of the European Network on Learning to Learn (Hoskins & Fredriksson, 2008). Internationally, learning to learn is emerging as a focus for school improvement and as a foundation for lifelong and lifewide learning. UNESCO includes approaches to learning as a key domain which should be an entitlement for all children, and one which needs to be assessed.

Language matters.

There is a real need for serious debate about the term ‘learning to learn’ which is frequently used in different ways and in different contexts without clear definition.  Often it is used within a conceptually narrow framework, limited to “measurable” study strategies and learning styles (OECD 2009) for which there is little evidence of success. There is an urgent need for a research validated foundation for learning to learn and what constitutes it.

Practitioners, university lecturers, teachers and schools around the world are interested in their students becoming able to take responsibility for their own learning and achievement – and for this they need to learn how to learn.  Existing funds of knowledge are all ‘out there on the internet’ and what matters is how individuals and teams make sense out of and utilise the mass of information which bombards them every day. Dialogue between research and practice is crucial to underpin this movement, generating a discipline of research-informed practice which frames and informs both commercial and policy interests. In the absence of a ‘pensee unique’  the global community of scholarship in education provides an important voice which should make a healthy, collaborative contribution to the formation of policy and practice.

Assessment of competence in learning to learn is a critically important policy ideal – one which the European Union embraced and embarked upon with Learning to Learn working group. After some serious effort we came to the conclusion that there are so many different approaches to learning to learn from across the EU, that it was impossible in 2007 to arrive at a consensus in its measurement. Before we can ever effectively assess something we need to know exactly what it is we are measuring – as a matter of professional ethics. We also need to know what measurement models are most suitable and what is the purpose of the assessment before we develop our assessment technologies. This book was conceived by people who participated in that EU project and, we hope, in an important way it keeps the dialogue alive.

Complexity and Learning to Learn

Learning to learn is a complex process rather than either a simple or even a complicated one.  Demetriou’s chapter explores an architecture of mind that incorporates four inter-related systems all of which may be relevant to learning to learn. Each contributor proposes a complex mix of processes that coalesce into learning to learn – including affective, cognitive and dispositional factors. All agree that learning to learn is about the promotion of self-directed learning, the cultivation of intrinsic motivation for learning and the development of intentional agency on the part of the learner.  All agree that contextual factors – such as pedagogy, assessment regimes, quality of relationships and socio-cultural factors – together interact and influence the ability of an individual to learn how to learn and to become an agent in their own learning journey. Learning to learn is messy and complex.

The implications of this complexity are enormous. edgar morinAs Edgar Morin argues (and Jung before him), Western thought has been dominated by the principles of disjunction, reduction and abstraction. Engaging with learning to learn as a complex process requires a paradigm of distinction-conjunction, so that we can distinguish without disjoining and associate without identifying or reducing.  In short we need to develop new and more holistic ways of understanding, facilitating and enabling learning to learn in our education communities, so that we can hold in tension the inner personal aspects of agency, purpose and desire and dispositions and the more measurable external and public manifestations of learning and performance and collaboration with others in learning to learn. We need measurement models that can account for quality of trust as a core resource, and story as a vehicle for agency as well as the more traditional and familiar measures of performance and problem solving.

Becoming self-organising agents in our own lives

If learning to learn is about human beings becoming self-organising agents of their own lives, as our contributors suggest, then it is clear that ‘top down’, transmission oriented approaches to learning, teaching and school improvement are no longer enough. The challenge is how to create the conditions in which individual students are able to take responsibility for their own learning over time.  By definition, this cannot be done for them. It has to be by invitation, allowing learning to learn to emerge and fuel agency and purpose.

The establishment of the framework for international comparison of educational achievement provided by the OECD through the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the means for regularly compiling the data is a considerable achievement. It has provided an evidence base for Governments to inform domestic educational policy and against which to allocate priorities. What this data set is less effective at revealing are the reasons behind international and regional difference: we still understand too little about what drives these broad numbers. Furthermore the numbers continue to reveal deep, intractable challenges in education such as embedded disadvantage linked to geography, economics and ethnicity.

There is a pressing need to assemble an internationally comparable set of data which can better inform our understanding of factors such as learning how to learn and how this varies within and between different contexts. The academic and theoretical work that has been undertaken on these issues to date, while rich and deep, has focused on aspects of the problem, often failing to cross disciplinary boundaries. The real world challenge of educational improvement, meanwhile, is relentlessly trans-disciplinary, involving a complex interplay between social, institutional and individual factors. It presents a challenge both to theory and practice. The PISA data by comparison achieves comparability through the use of widely available proxy indicators but lacks the depth and resolution needed to provide an understanding of the mechanisms driving the patterns it surfaces.

Valuing Difference

What is also clear from this volume is the value of different cultures in the debate about learning to learn. Two chapters are written explicitly from an Eastern perspective  – demonstrating how Confucian philosophy can enrich our understanding of learning to learn and challenging some deeply held Western assumptions.  We have contributions from Australia, New Zealand, Finland, UK, Spain, Austria, China, Italy and the USA and uniquely, a set of case studies from learning to learn projects in remote Indigenous communities where the cultural differences are enormous. This  is a ‘brolga’ a community  metaphor for creativity for children in Daly River School, in Northern Territory.
Creativity

However comprehensive, this volume does not address a number of research and practice themes or leaves unanswered questions for further research. Among these, perhaps the most relevant is the road towards the assessment of learning to learn which is a daunting endeavour – although it provides a foundation for this through its contribution in exploring what it is that should be assessed in learning to learn and why. Other open questions concern the deployment of learning to learn in school improvement; in the training of trainers, educators and educational leaders; in personal development and empowerment. The connection of learning to learn with other key competencies, such as active citizenship and entrepreneurship, also requires further study.

This book draws on a rich, global tradition of research and practice. It is written by researchers and  practitioners who care deeply about education and about learning how to learn in particular. Our purpose is to generate debate, to link learning communities and to make a contribution to the ways in which societies worldwide are seeking to re-imagine their education systems. Our hope is that learning to learn will soon find a consistent place in educational policies worldwide.

Professor Anthony Bryk : Master Class and Public Lecture in Bristol 21st May 2014

Prof Tony Bryk (President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching).  He will be providing a one day masterclass, followed by a public lecture on the Design-Educational Engineering and Development (DEED) approach to school improvement. This work has inspired several projects in the UK including a study into student engagement in Oasis Academy John Williams 

Tony Bryk masterclass

Book me a place!...

Professor Tony Bryk

Tony Bryk was a leading figure in the Consortium on Tony BrykChicago School Research (CSSR).  Over twenty years they developed a theoretical and empirical framework which is holistic, participatory and based on understanding that “schools are complex organisations consisting of multiple interacting sub-systems. Each subsystem involves a mix of human and social factors that shape the activities that occur and the meaning that individuals attribute to these events. These social interactions are bounded by various rules, roles and prevailing practices that, in combination with technical resources, constitute schools as formal organisations. In a simple sense, almost everything interacts with everything else”.  (2010: 45). Bryk et al went on to identify essential school supports – agents, processes and structures – which were characteristic of improving schools, as measured by student engagement in learning and achievement.  Each of these supports, stimulated by leadership, focus on dynamic processes of change and learning and need to be implemented tenaciously and attended to as a whole. They provide an explanation of how the organisation and relational dynamics of a school, including parents and community, interact with work inside its classrooms to advance student learning.  Professor Tony Bryk Summary

Professor Bryk’s work in Design Educational Engineering and Development as a framework for sustainable improvement in schools has inspired the Hampshire Teaching Schools Alliance in their project ‘Deep Learning Across Transitions’.

As well as the Master Class Professor Bryk will be doing two public lectures one in Bristol on Wednesday 21st May 2014 17:00 – 1900: University of Bristol Bryk public lecture and one at the University of Winchester on Thursday 22nd May 2014 1700-1900, at the Stripe Auditorium: University of Winchester Bryk public lecture

To book for Bristolhttp://bristol.ac.uk/education/events/2014/1031.html

More information can be viewed here

To book for Winchester contact Rhona Rogers at Pioneer.alliance@harrison.hants.sch.uk 

Tony Bryk final

Research Metro Map

At the Festival of Postgraduate Research event held on Friday 21/02/2014 at Bristol, we presented a metro map of our research interests.

Not surprisingly there was a great deal of overlap in our research areas – which has been plotted on the metro map. Although it provided visitors to our stall with a great overview of our research interests, it was more important to us, as a research centre, to see the relationships between us.  What was interesting was being able to observe the emergence of a dialogue as we looked at the map on the day, not only in terms of shared interests but in the potential links.

metromap

We intend to continue the discussion to develop this map further in our seminar series over the next few months.

Copies of our individual research posters can be in the blog post Bristol Festival of Postgraduate Research 

 

 

 

Hampshire Teaching Schools Alliance: Becoming Research Teachers focused on improving Deep Learning Across Transitions

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 18.40.50The Hampshire Teaching Schools Alliance has formed a Networked Improvement Community with structured social arrangements which joins academic research, clinical practice and commercial expertise in sustained programmes of Design Educational Engineering and Development (Bryk et al 2010).  This is an approach to improvement which is being developed in education by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teacher Education

Pioneer Teaching School AllianceIt  offers a productive synthesis across the research-practice divide. It aims to meld the conceptual strength and methodological norms associated with traditional research  with the contextual specificity, deep clinical insight and practical orientation characteristic of action research.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 18.44.52

Participants in a Networked Improvement Community endorse shared, precise, measureable targets which achieve a shared purpose.  They address shared,complex problems and participate in whole systems designing processes aimed at clarifying the problem/challenge/solution space. On the basis of rich data from this process they design interventions which may lead to improvement.  These interventions are rapidly prototyped, and  participants agree to use what is learned from working toward meeting the targets, to setting new targets aimed at ever more ambitious goals. In this regard, shared measureable targets help a community stay focused on its core purpose, from the community’s perspective. They catalyze discussions among participants as to why we should attend to this rather than that. They demand about what is likely to afford more immediate progress.  They introduce discipline in priority setting as it interacts with the individualistic rhetoric of “I am interested in…”

The problem identified in the HTSA NIC is the problem of student progress in learning and achievement across key transitions.

Our shared understanding of the problem we are seeking to address is that we lack a common approach to teaching, learning and assessment across transitions. Specifically we tend to:nsitions in education. Throughout 2012/13 academic year, as well as setting in place the social arrangements, they have engaged in a systems analysis of the problem. This is presented in the first diagram below, Problem Solution Space. From here the potential solutions were identified in the second diagram: Driver Diagram.

  • create dependent learners
  • lack a shared language and repertoire of learning routines & practices
  • lack pro-active and shared rich student academic & learning assessment data
  • lack trust between teachers in different contexts
  • are influenced by anxiety about performance criteria

Our shared hypothesis:

If we focus on a common approach to developing self-directed learning and knowledge construction for students across the transitions then we will enable students to maintain progress in learning and performance because they will carry this competence into their new context, which will have key pedagogical characteristics in common with the one they have left.

Our shared purpose is: 

To design and implement approaches to teaching and learning which facilitate deep & self-directed learning in students which they carry across the transition, which is recognised and supported in the new context, and which leads to sustained progress and improved attainment.

In order to do this, our initial focus is on teacher professional learning – how we work together, harness our collective intelligence and learn across the Alliance. We work creatively within a common, disciplined framework with shared design principles.

Design Principles

(Key practices which are (i) disciplined and pervasive characteristics of our shared approach to pedagogy, (ii) evidence based and (iii) communicated to our communities in many different ways)

Developing Deep & Self-Directed Learning through

  • a shared language for learning and knowledge construction
  • a common approach to teaching as learning design
  • a common set of assessment strategies – using rich data
  • a common set of values which pervade the learning environments
  • authentic pedagogy for deep engagement

Project Methodology

A shared question  & a context specific response

#Each Project will make a unique contribution to addressing the question of what type of pedagogical practices  contribute to the development of deep and self-directed learning across the transition.

Who will we work with?

Each project team works collaboratively with a year group before and after the transition (for example year 5 and year 7)  using the rapid prototype methodology based on the Plan Do Study Act cycle.

A rapid prototype is a short, small project (24 weeks) designed and implemented by the teacher/researchers following the Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle. It addresses all or some of the project’s shared design principles but in a way which is appropriate for that particular context. It is evaluated locally – and using disciplined metrics which are agreed by the whole group. Eventually the project will harvest the learning from all the prototypes, which can be scaled up across the communities.

There will be two prototypes, one between December and March and the second between April and June. The second one is improved in the light of the evaluation of the first one.  Each project team is responsible for designing and implementing their own research project, including data collection and analysis methods and presentation of findings.  Two project workshops will provide a collaborative learning event for each cycle where each group presents their findings – what works, and key concepts.  These will be synthesised & shared for improvements in the next prototypes.

Each prototype will contribute its learning to the whole via the Evidence Hub in the form of stories of significant change, videos, etc.  Each project will have an academic critical friend from a local University. Each project will adopt the Ten Up methodology across the cohort.  From the target year group, focus on 10 students to study in depth as case studies for professional learning, whilst the whole year group benefits from the intervention.  These students could also provide case studies for students in the partner HEIs who need data and can add value.

Overall Disciplined Evaluation Framework

Each project will commit to working with the shared, disciplined evaluation framework for the whole project.  As well as contributing equally to the whole project systems designing and solutions space, they will agreed to collect and provide data which will be used to evaluate the project as a whole, over the four year lifecyle.  This whole project data is designed to measure the target outcome which is ‘student self-directed learners’ and the relationship between this outcome measure and student progress across transitions. It will also enable the project to idenfity a ‘control group’ in another teaching schools alliance elsewhere in the UK if appropriate, which is not addressing the problem of transitions in this way.

Learning to Achieve  is a handbook for teachers who want to understand more about implementing learning power.

Modelling Learning Dynamics

Shaofu Huang presented his doctoral research at a seminar of the Centre for Systems Learning and Leadership on Wednesday 24th April. This is an exciting application of complexity theory and systems modelling in the social sciences and demonstrates that for teachers, engaging students in deep learning is complex and unpredictable – more like a design challenge than a script to be followed.