“Adult learning theory” in the Kindergarten classroom

From the New York Times on October 8, 2008:

The IBPYP model is based on inquiry, participation in the process of learning, and exploration. It is learner-driven, not-teacher dominated. Teachers act as facilitators in the learning process and children’s questions and interests are at the center of the classroom.

… In the current national climate of testing, we have to make time for creative expression. It is urgent. Children need some constructive form of release.

… Children express their creativity and intelligence in a variety of ways. By allowing students to safely explore beyond their typical boundaries, we are encouraging them to express themselves in unique ways in a positive, safe, non-judgmental environment. Performance and open-ended inquiry help us move beyond traditional models of education. The arts, performance, and inquiry are small steps we take to help our students regain ownership of their learning.

I have not been comfortable making a significant distinction between adults and children when looking at the needs of learners for the purpose of developing an idea of what an online component of a classroom could look like.

I have tended to think of learners in a spectrum, and have found that the factor of a learner’s chronological age has not been particularly useful as a way to make distinctions between learners.  From a developmental standpoint, I know that it is a factor due to the physiological processes that happen as we age.  However, it has seemed clear that some children demonstrate adult learning needs, and some adults have learning needs that resemble the needs associated with children.

In this article, we have principles that I have come to associate with adult education now being applied to children in kindergarten.  Children are being encouraged to be self-directed learners.  The idea that children cannot “own” their education is being challenged.

In our classrooms, inquiry comes alive through performance. This week in our kindergarten we are starting a unit called “We are Peacemakers.” In this unit, the children learn about sharing, cooperation, conflict resolution, expressing feelings, and building community. We start the unit by asking the children what they know about peace and being a peacemaker. We then use their questions and interests to guide the inquiry process.

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Integrating Technology with Adult Learning Theory

Near the top of a google search for “adult learning theory and education,” I found the article “Andragogy and Technology: Integrating Adult Learning Theory as We Teach with Technology” by Dolores Fidishun, Ed.D., Penn State Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, presented at the 2000 Mid-South Instructional Technology Conference, Middle Tennessee State University.

The article begins with this idea:

The principles of adult learning theory can be used in the design of technology-based instruction to make it more effective.

I share this sentiment and one of the reasons that I have developed this blog is to learn more about adult learning theories and how these ideas can be applied to the development of online educational resources.

Based on the application of adult learning theories, Dr. Fidishun offers several suggestions for the design of an effective online educational resource, including these specific design ideas:

One way to help students see the value of the lessons is to ask the student, either online or in an initial face-to-face meeting, to do some reflection on what they expect to learn, how they might use it in the future or how it will help them to meet their goals.

It becomes extremely important for those who are designing technology-based adult learning to use all of the capabilities of the technology including branching, the ability to skip sections a student already understands, and multiple forms of presentation of material which can assist people with various learning styles.

The instructor must find ways to move [dependent] learners into self-direction by giving them short, directed, concrete online tasks that provide the most “learning for the experience” to make these adults see the relevancy of online learning.

The design of technology-based instruction must include opportunities for learners to use their knowledge and experience. Case studies, reflective activities, group projects that call upon the expertise of group members and lab experiments are examples of the type of learning activities which will facilitate the use of learners’ already acquired expertise.

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The “Real World” and the Internet

From the Pew Research Center on August 17, 2008:
Key News Audiences
The findings by the Pew study include this finding of an interesting type of behavior by Internet users:

A slim majority of Americans (51%) now say they check in on the news from time to time during the day, rather than get the news at regular times. This marks the first time since the question was first asked in 2002 that most Americans consider themselves “news grazers.”

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The evolution of the classroom

From the New York Times on August 16, 2008:

The educational bottom line, it seems, is that while computer technology has matured and become more affordable, the most significant development has been a deeper understanding of how to use the technology.

“Unless you change how you teach and how kids work, new technology is not really going to make a difference,” said Bob Pearlman, a former teacher who is the director of strategic planning for the New Technology Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

The needs of students have already shifted due to the development of web-based technology. The recognition of this rapid evolution seems to be a common theme in the news lately.

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Virtual Unknowns: Poverty, Culture and Class on the Internet

When I read this in Adult Learning: An Overview by Stephen Brookfield (1995):

After criticisms that the emphasis on self-directed learning as an adult characteristic was being uncritically advanced, that studies were conducted mostly with middle class subjects, that issues [concerning] the quality of self-directed learning projects were being ignored and that it was treated as disconnected from wider social and political forces, there have been some attempts to inject a more critical tone into work in this area.

it reminded me of a Bridges out of Poverty training I once attended and how there has seemed to be something missing in the theories of adult learning that I have explored so far. Despite the attention to tailoring the learning experience to a learner’s roles and experiences, there may be an assumption in the background that fails to factor in the complexity that poverty adds to needs of adult learners.

I raise this as a point to consider because the Bridges out of Poverty training identified profound differences in how various populations process information, communicate and make decisions. As the summary of a related book by Dr. Ruby K. Payne points out, these differences tend to be “virtually unknown” to people with middle class or wealthy backgrounds, which does make me wonder about how the impacts of class divisions and poverty have been considered by adult learning theorists.

The Internet seems capable of making class divisions more profound and acute. There is already a sharp divide between those who have access to the internet and those who do not. As the field of online education develops, it seems important to acknowledge the class-based differences of learners in order to reduce the risk of replicating and strengthening class divisions that can exclude populations from the educational opportunity of the internet.

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Adult learning theories and the development of online resources

The creation of an online educational resource is different than the creation of an online classroom, but many principles associated with adult learning theories are relevant to the development of an online educational resource.

Overall, there is a trend that seems to warrant consideration of using a moderated wiki and having a moderated online forum. These are ultimately massive undertakings, but it is important to consider the ways users gravitate to online forums and places where they can express themselves. The materials related to adult learning suggest that if this can be accomplished in a safe manner that it would promote the learning process.

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The Digital Divide

This post is an exploration and critique of a May, 2008 article entitled “Closing the Digital Divide:7 Things Educators Need to Do” [pdf] by Ian Jukes, The InfoSavvy Group and Tim McCain, Cystar.

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