Developing a Purpose-Driven Approach to Learning
Jason C. Lange, BloomBoard
The way we interact as human beings has changed significantly over the last twenty years. Daily communication between friends is no longer a phone call, but instead a tag, a tweet, or a disappearing video. The process of navigating the world has changed from an immersive and physical experience with a map, to a disconnected and technology-reliant after-thought with a smartphone. Yet, for all of this societal advancement, the ways we support learning look remarkably similar to those from centuries ago.
Historically, outcomes in education have been driven by the agendas of schools, policy makers, and academics. The destination of a successful student pathway, as defined by these stakeholders, was college. However, due to large-scale societal change in recent times, a shift in the balance of power away from policy makers and towards employers is beginning to take shape.
Employers are continuing to have a growing influence on the way learning and education systems look, as they control the desired outcomes for students. Yet, traditional models of learning and instruction are not meeting these professionally driven set of expectations. Alarmingly, only 11 percent of employers believe that recent graduates have the skills needed to succeed within their workforces.
The Problem With Historical Models of Learning and Instruction
The two most critical drivers of educational outcomes for students are the learning model and the instructional model. The learning model is starting to change with the introduction of technology and student-centered approaches to learning, while the instructional model has stayed largely stagnant for decades. This disparity is a cause for concern.
The system by which we train instruction is well documented to be both ineffective and incredibly costly, with little impact on actual classroom practice. A report published by TNTP found that school districts are spending upward of $18,000 a year per teacher on all costs associated with professional development. However, only 5% of the learning teachers obtain from this investment is being implemented in the classroom (Joyce & Showers, 1995, 2002, 2016).
The question has to be asked, how much of an impact is the current approach to learning having on teacher practice and student outcomes?
It’s clear that more and more school boards are becoming frustrated with the growing gap between the money they spend on traditional professional development initiatives and the level of impact (or lack thereof) these funds seem to have on classroom-related outcomes.
In many states, this frustration at a district level is being compounded by a shift in priorities at the state level, where education budgets are being withheld when there is no clear connection between student learning, teacher instruction, and proven outcomes. Add to these issues, mounting pressure from the business industry calling for higher standards, transparency, and accountability on graduates, and we have created the volatile dynamic around what the future of learning might look like.
To close the gap between investment and reported outcomes, many states have started the move toward a competency-based approach to learning. With a competency-based approach, by default, individuals are working to build a portfolio that showcases their skills. This shift is not about how they learn or how long it takes them, it’s about building mastery and demonstrating skills relevant to success in their field.
Within the current system, the incentives for practical learning are based on box checking, rather than meaningful progression. The high standards expected of competency-based learning are, therefore, inconsistent with the ease-of-credit accrual associated with traditional consumption-based learning. This leaves teachers and students unmotivated to go above and beyond to develop their skills.
While the move from consumption to competency is starting to take shape at all levels of education, the process is slow. In this paper, we will explore how this much needed change can be accelerated.
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