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Learning that Matters


“Today we speak casually of lifelong learning, but in a few decades, it will likely be so much the norm as hardly to require its own label.” - David Perkins


You’re an educator with your finger on the pulse of what’s relevant to teaching and school. Being well read, you know that educational thought leaders are focusing new dialogue on learning. Schools have always been places of knowledge, but few can deny the impact the Internet has on a person’s ability to learn whatever they want, whenever they want. Let’s have some fun by responding with the first word that pops into your mind.


Fill in the blank to complete the following phrase; ______________________ learning.


The possible answers are numerous, aren’t they? Is your response included in the table below?


Authentic
Problem-based
Project-based
Individualized
Personalized
Cooperative
Flipped
Mastery
Community-based
Differentiated
Lifelong
Blended
Active
Social
Self-directed
Self-determined


As you reflect upon your K-12 education, what learning has provided a return on investment? What learning matters to you presently? David Perkins, in his book, Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World, defines lifeworthy learning as learning that matters to the learner; presently and for years to come. “Why do we need to know this?”, could be taken as a disrespectful challenge, or it could be an honest assessment of relevancy.

Perkins suggests lifeworthy learning is grounded in significant understandings; big questions that follow us and keep us awake at night. Big understandings are overarching themes that have a lasting impact. They are substantiated by an opportunity for application, gaining personal insight, informing our actions, and shaping ethical perspective. Perkins believes educating for the unknown is the key to transforming what constitutes meaningful learning in school.


“The agenda of education should not just be passing along the contents of already open boxes but fostering curiosity for those still unopened or barely cracked open. (Perkins, D. 2014)


Will Richardson says, “Curriculum is our best guess about what things should be learned in school.” How do we determine what learning matters? An important step is to have dialogue identifying learning undeserving of the lifeworthy label. Raise your hand if you remember the quadratic formula from your K-12 school experience. Notice that I didn’t ask if you learned the quadratic formula because that would suggest a bigger understanding than just remembering.


Keep your hand up if you’ve used the quadratic formula personally or professionally within the past week, past month, or past decade. Since there is no return on the initial investment, the quadratic formula, for most individuals, falls into what Perkins calls, the relevance gap. For most of us, the quadratic formula doesn’t matter in our daily lives. What would happen to the traditional curriculum if we were more attentive to the relevance gap than the often-discussed achievement gap?


Personal and professional relevance is driving modern learning in the workplace. Jane Hart is an expert in the area of workplace learning. She recently posted a checklist of twenty personal learning activities that support modern professional learning approaches. Her recommendations include; adopting a learner’s mindset, building a robust network that supports connected learning, identifying learning goals and evidence of growth, and contributing to learning teams. (Jane Hart, 2016)
Although most K-12 schools still follow a traditional curriculum, Perkins has identified six trends that are beginning to influence education policy. He calls these patterns “beyonds.”


  • Beyond content to current skills and competencies
  • Beyond local to global perspective, problems, and studies
  • Beyond topics to content supporting thought and action
  • Beyond traditional disciplines to extended themes
  • Beyond discrete disciplines to interdisciplinary issues and problems
  • Beyond academic engagement to personal choice, significance, commitment, and passion


Reimagining education means making lifeworthy learning a curricular priority. Perkins recommends keeping the dialogue positive and productive by identifying themes that generate great understandings. Start by asking what is important now and likely to be important in the future. No one can accurately predict the future but identifying trends and educating for the unknown moves learning towards greater relevance. In addition to igniting lifelong learning, we are at least better prepared for the unsolicited, “why do we have to learn this?”.

Related Reading



Originally posted on Fractus Learning - 5.3.16

photo credit: The school.. via photopin (license)

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