Friday, September 11, 2009

Learning to Learn

"The single most important thing you can learn in the ‘flat’ world is the ability to learn how to learn - to constantly absorb, and teach yourself, new ways of doing old things or new ways of doing new things... To learn how to learn, you have to love learning - or you have to at least enjoy it - because so much learning is about being motivated to teach yourself. And while it seems that some people are just born with that motivation, many others can develop it or have it implanted with the right teacher." - Thomas L. Friedman,
The World is Flat.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, and, as Eric Hoffer said, "in times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." We cannot accurately predict what skills our students will need or jobs they will be required to do in future years. But we can - and must! - teach them to value learning, and to become adept at self-instruction.

One way to do this in the online classroom is to engage the class in a discussion of what learning is about. You might begin with the quote that opens this article, placing it on the whiteboard and inviting comments from students. You could then use the Web tool to take students to this synopsis of Friedman's book - or share the file using the file sharing tool.

Try some pointed questions, either with the entire class or by assigning them to groups in breakout rooms. What does "flat world" mean? What's the difference between "learning" and "learning to learn"? In a global workplace, why is it important to learn to learn?

Once this concept has been discussed and appreciated, tune in to your students' own abilities and preferences for learning. Try using the Polling tool to identify students' preferences for learning (e.g., A, Group work; B, Reading the text; C, Listening to lectures and taking notes; D, Discussion). Or use the VARK questionnaire to identify learning styles. These will help students identify their own preferences for taking in information visually, aurally, by reading and writing, kinesthetically, or multimodally. Once they've completed these questionnaires, take them to the VARK Helpsheets so they can plan their own "learning to learn" strategies.

Doing this early in the semester is a great way to prepare students - not only for your class, but for a lifetime of learning.

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