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?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Have you got a happy place - my introduction

My avatar (Branwen Trevellion) in Second Life
Welcome to my blog. I will be using this to connect with you in the Learning and Teaching in Practice course. I reckon it is my role as the course coordinator to show you how it all works.  Do you know how scary that is? I have to write something interesting so you will read it. I am going to use this blog less formally to share my thoughts and ideas about the topics, and also any information that I come across. I hope you will take the time to leave me comments.

I see this as my chance to develop a digital portfolio alongside you....and find out if it really is going to work. Can you see the link to my ePortfolio top right? More detail about my profile and how I got to this space can be read on there. I see the portfolio as a more formal record of the evidence and learning for each module of the course. It will become an exemplar that I hope you find useful.

I am a little nervous about all this because getting teachers to use blogs and digital portfolios can either be an adventure for everyone or something they want to avoid, and then it doesn't work so well. Perhaps I should book that ticket to Bhutan now. I mention Bhutan because that is my favourite place at the moment - they have Gross National Happiness - how cool is that! I guess it is my happy place to retreat to when things get challenging. Have you got one?

For all this to work requires everyone to make time to read each others blogs/portfolios and leave comments. Since there are 16 people in the course you will need to be selective and to rotate around the blogs you read. Don't expect to read every blog every week - just do what you can manage. It is surprising what you can learn from others' ideas, and that can sometimes save you time. In time you may decide to only follow those people who are more in tune with your context.

So up and away. Branwen has some virtual flying to do.