“How do you see learning: black-and-white or colorful?” I posed this question to teachers and head-teachers in one of my workshops. One of them asked, “What does this mean? What kind of a question is it?”. “Please do not take it the wrong way”, I responded. “Let’s accept the fact that most of the teachers and faculty members were educated and trained in black-and-white times, where learning was carried out with white chalk and blackboard. Black-and-white learning is a mindset which most of us have inherited from our teachers.”
Let me share with you a few examples which I am sure we observe every day. Copies/notebooks are white, pencils are black. Most of the textbooks and worksheets used in the classrooms are black-and-white too. The examination and assessment systems, policies, teacher-student relationships, homework systems, parent-teacher meetings, etc. are all observed in black and white. What about teachers’ education programs, workshops, and courses? Do they promote colorful learning? I am sure you have guessed what I am trying to say. Of course, it is not about colors literally; it is about how learning is viewed, experienced and fostered in academic institutions.
Think and reflect for a minute: Consider how a child learns outside of the classroom in the 21st century. Children are bombarded with images, photos, and videos. They are learning and interacting through visuals aids and colors 24/7. They use cell phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, iPhones, etc., which are less heavy and more interesting than static copies, textbooks, and boards. They are, in short, the YouTube and Counter Strike generation. They live in an age in which they perceive and experience almost everything in colors. In the words of Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, “How has the world of the child changed in the last 150 years? The answer is, it’s hard to imagine any way in which it hasn’t changed….[Today, children] are immersed in all kinds of activities that were unheard of 150 years ago, and yet if you look at schools today versus 100 years ago, they are more similar than dissimilar.” For sure, these schools were built to meet expectations of the Industrial Age, but in order to meet the demands and challenges of the Information age, we need a different kind of teaching and learning institutions.
Learning is SYMBIOTIC: Symbiosis, by definition, is the relationship between two different species that are dependent on each other and benefit from each other. So learning should be seen, practiced and applied as a process where everyone in the learning community contributes to the development and improvement of each other’s capacities and capabilities. Teachers and parents accept the fact that nowadays children have more information and access to information compared to children at their time. But we do not observe anyone encouraging this while designing and implementing the learning processes. The emergence of global citizenship has made it essential that the learning processes, systems, and outcomes be developed and implemented in collaboration to come up with a well-harmonized community, country and the world.
Learning is EXPERIENTIAL and AUTHENTIC: Learning by doing has been emphasized a lot and is considered to be the only way which can bring positive changes in the cognitive abilities and behavior. In the 21st century, experiences and exposures can be created and built not only with the local community but the global learning community. Empowering each member of the learning community to build and participate in the authentic learning experiences is a key to success.
Learning is Multisensory: Note taking, rote memorizing, listening to lectures and doing what has been told in the form of instruction needs to be considered obsolete and irrelevant. Most of the experiences are provided by sitting on a chair and desk, therefore, not only are they retained well, but are also alien to the innate capacities and capabilities. Learning experiences should provide stimulation and engagement of all the senses.
Learning is SOCIAL: The “I want pin drop silence in my classroom” approach is an outdated learning phenomenon. Humans are social beings and they learn and develop in a social context. Let us take language learning as an example. It could not be taught, it is acquired socially. The quality of interactions and discussions including opportunities to share personal insights, bolster the learning experiences and help each member to reflect on their own practice or in fact the attitude. 21st century web technologies could become an avenue in adding value to promote this mindset.
Learning is KAIZEN: Kaizen, in Japanese, means “change for better”. It is taught and applied in the manufacturing industry as a process of continuous improvement. What about learning experiences provided to the learners? Unfortunately, the prevalent teaching and assessment methods are not helping learners see the learning experiences as tools for continuous reflection and action. These experiences are merely considered as content which has to be poured out when asked in the examinations. In reality, we all know that it is through the process of continuous reflection that one is able to see the impact of learning on oneself. And, finally, the continuous improvement process applies not only to the learners, but also to all the key stake holders of the academic institutions and off course to the family.
In conclusion, let us engage and support everyone who is ambitious and passionate about promoting learning. Start looking at it from a different lens and colorful perspective. We all know this famous quote by Confucius, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” My experiences have helped me perceive and extend this to another level: “I understand and I apply, I reflect and analyze, I unlearn and then I relearn.” This could only be possible if the learning process is seen and integrated into life as a natural process like breathing.