Friday, June 28, 2013

Expert learners: Learning and Teaching in Practice

Expert learner brainstorm
The concept of Expert Learners, became a whole lot clearer to me after the workshop last week. This is one of the topics in the first module, Learner Characteristics, Knowing the Learner.  

We brainstormed some ideas about what being an expert learner might involve. As you can see, having some experience with learning,  knowing how to process information at high levels including metacognition and critical thinking were on the list. Flexibility, seeking out information and making connections to prior knowledge and proven theories was also regarded as important. After that we did some activities located on the Excellence Gateway Treasury, a UK site for learning and skills improvement.

For me learning at the level of metacognition and using critical thinking is really important. To do this you have to be really aware of how you learn and also how you regulate your cognitive processes. For me, this involves setting goals and engaging in reflective learning, and also knowing how to find, use and critique information and resources (including people) to develop new knowledge. It also means having the confidence to get on with it rather than waiting for someone to tell me what to do and how to do it. This confidence also means being able to problem-solve, be persistent, take risks and come out the other side with a different take on things. As an expert learner, I need to be open and flexible to whatever comes along, curious and autonomous, and for me learning collaboratively and sharing knowledge is high on the list.

 This takes lots of experience and the development of many skills. Now that I have completed a PhD, I feel as if I now know how to learn. But should we have to go to that extreme to become an expert learner? I think not.

So what do the experts say? According to my reading, expert learners have many of the characteristics, I have mentioned and more. The resources and activities available for Developing the Expert Learner, also got us thinking about which characteristics were more important (high impact) or less important (low impact). Each group had different priorities. For example, one group considered that curiosity, being well organised and setting goals were important whereas the other group thought these characteristics were less important, choosing things like organising and analysing information and understanding the course or qualification requirements as priorities.

From the Excellence Gateway Treasury
When we thought  about which characteristics were more likely to show at each stage of the learning journey - from recruitment, induction, through an initial assessment, learning plans and the learning process, until assessment and graduation - a different set of priorities emerged. For example, at induction the group thought that a potential expert learner would be more likely to demonstrate flexibility when approaching new situations and be able to understand the qualification requirements, possibly already understanding how they learn but less able to establish goals and monitor progress, and be an autonomous learner since these are skills that would develop later on with experience and support.

Wild and Heck's (2011) website (ID 4 the Web) has a great synopsis about the characteristics of expert learners - who engage actively in learning by participating to develop their knowledge and understanding, take responsibility and lead their learning. They do this through self-regulation by planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning. I agree with their take on the expert learner since it relies heavily on active learning, metacognition and as such involves reflective learning. From my perspective an expert learner engages in reflective practice using critical reflection and as such transforming their behaviours, attitudes and perceptions about the knowledge they are developing. I wonder what you think about my view?

This 4 minute video about active learning by NWIACOMMCOLLEGE gives some ideas about basic activities that can encourage this in the face-to-face and online classrooms - it involves three types of approach: teaching strategies, small tasks and methods for "discovering, processing and applying information". According to the message in the video, anything that encourages participation is active learning because deeper learning occurs when the students "analyse, define, create and evaluate information". By doing this they retain "90% of what they do". Compare this to retaining "10% of what they read" or "20% of what they hear" or "70% of what they say and write". 

So the message is, you can read as much as you want or hear and write all sorts of stuff but unless you actively do something with the information to process it, you wont retain the knowledge or understand it adequately, and learning won't be as effective. Do you agree?

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