Learning theories & education reform

(Hear author read this post)

I have written at length about learning theory.  I would like to further demonstrate the power of learning theory to attempt to explain why education reform is such a slow process.

First of all, constructivist learning theory (CLT) would state that new ideas are always compared against prior experience.  In the case of education, new ideas about teaching and learning are compared to at least 13 years of the educator’s own k-12 experience. Then if the educator has been teaching for some time, there is even more experience that creates cognitive momentum and oftentimes prevents new ideas from being integrated.

Developmental learning theory (DLT) focuses on ability to handle abstraction.  Let’s be honest, considering ideas in education or thinking about how people think is a very abstract task, and some people just aren’t there yet….and may never be.  Reflecting on your own practice and considering how new ideas might be incorporated is also very abstract.  Then, imagining how to use new ideas (abstract) to help students make sense of their thinking (abstract) requires tremendous brain power.  Metacognition is one thing, thinking about others thinking while thinking about your own thinking is just overwhelming to some.  Oftentimes, education reform ideas are passed over for routine…it doesn’t take as much cognitive effort or ability.

Lastly, social learning theory (SLT) notes how meaning is constructed via social interaction and that peers play such a vital role in learning.  Unfortunately, the peer role can prevent modification of ideas as well as enhance.  When the dominate discourse in the teachers’ lounge is status quo, or resistant to change, new ideas are not assimilated into frameworks of teaching and learning.  SLT is why finding colleagues who push you to be better is so important.

When introducing education reform, we must realize that teachers are learners.  The same rules apply.  We must exercise patience with our students as they struggle to make sense of new information and provide them guidance. We must do the same with teachers who are confronted with education reform.

ADDENDUM: I am reading “Achieving Scientific Literacy” by Roger Bybee.  The first section is about the history of science education.  I cannot believe how reform has called for the same stuff for almost 50 years and still, very little progress.  While the above might explain why, it does not tell us what we ought to do about it.  Thoughts?

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