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The importance of learning

Koen Timmers
by Koen Timmers
Educator - Author - Keynote speaker - Global Teacher Prize 2017 finalist

Teachers strive for motivated students who are inspired and who are discovering their talents. But... in most cases teachers are doing it wrong

First of all, it's difficult to define education, a school or learning. People learn at all times, in many ways. And learning can occur outside of classrooms. Think about a situation in which I'm teaching my students at home since my school is in a distance learning project. My students at are learning independent at their own pace, without a teacher. And still to many people education is not complete without a teacher who's instructing his/her students in a classroom. Let's take a closer look!

8 ways to support learning


Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge

We have to dare to question and rethink every single part of Education. It's interesting to search for icons about Education. To many people education still seems to equal being very smart (like Einstein), a teacher instructing at a chalkboard, getting a degree, not cheating, etc. Isn't education more that offering knowledge to our students or getting a degree? Education is also about offering skills, values and ... bringing empathy in our classroom. I believe Education is what gives people the necessary skills to build a better future. 

Education is what gives people the necessary skills to build a better future. 

As a karate teacher I try to teach my students to persevere and have character. Sure I teach students how they have to do a right tsuki or kata, but the higher value is that they will be able to do great things. I think visionaries are shaped out of perseverance and creativity

Yes, people DO have to know facts by heart. But memorizing is not the meaning of education. I'm very sure we all realized at least one time during a quiz that we once knew a certain fact. In many times education is memorizing facts and figures until assessment and forgetting 75% of all knowledge. 

Instruction, instruction, instruction

As Lave advocates, there is lack of effective research about how learning occurs. Most research has been done on teaching instead of learning. I believe we have to focus on learning and we can learn in lots of different ways: flipped learning, collaborative learning, unpaced and self directed learning, learning in maker spaces, incidental learning, learning while doing an internship or going on excursions, etc. We, teachers instruct our students for most of the time. While our students are sitting and listening - or not, we keep on pouring knowledge in their heads. So do we have to stop instructing our students? No! In some cases we need to flip our classroom, sometimes our students need to discuss in a group or create in maker spaces and sometimes we DO have to instruct our students. The role of a teacher shifts from instructor to guide, coach, mentor, discussion leader and instructor. 

I personally believe that a teacher is a pedagogical engineer who needs to apply the best learning theory to a specific situation.

A teacher is a pedagogical engineer who needs to apply the best learning theory to a specific situation - Koen Timmers

I think collaborative learning is key. There are several approaches. Students can learn while discussing in a group. In the Social Constructivist approach people are learning in a group and knowledge developed via collaboration is more than what can be achieved alone. Students are creating, discussing and constructing in a group and the teacher becomes more like a coach or mentor.

In the Connectivist approach learning is the process of creating networks of information, resources and contacts applied to real problems. Students encourage each other to be engaged in their network. Students are connecting, exploring, creating and evaluating in their network. Moocs and PLN's (Personal Learning Network) are based on Connectivism. Students are basically learning from their nodes which can be books, websites, peers, social media, teachers, etc. There is no way people can cheat in a classroom. Assessment is also not important. The teacher has to explain to the students that they have to check the reliability of their sources so they can learn by reading articles on websites, reflect in blogs, ask questions on Twitter, etc. 


Not many teachers bring empathy into their classroom. Many times it is even an aspect which is kind of taboo or teachers don't know how to go about it. By using free tools like Skype you can create a global connection and you can be in direct contact with students from around the world. What's better than learning from other cultures, habits, other countries, religions, etc than being in direct contact with students from other parts of the world? Did you ever hear of Project Kakuma or Wai Water? I created these global collaborative projects to bring empathy in my classroom.


Outside the teacher's comfort zone

Education is very often limited by the teacher's comfort zone. When teachers don't know much about subjects, they don't mention it. I met teachers who are teaching their students to code JavaScript without having coding skills themselves. We are living in a digital era in which information is broadly and freely accessible so at some point students will know more about certain subjects than their teacher. What's wrong with allowing them to share their wisdom? It will bring teachers and students to a very interesting new scenario in which students begin to learn from each other and the teacher begins to learn from his/her students.

What's wrong with allowing students to share their wisdom?

The Personal Learning Network (PLN) of one student is in most cases limited to an average of 15 peers in one classroom while there is very little interaction with students from other classrooms. Education tends to be over structured. We are putting our children in classrooms based on age and in most cases on intelligence. But are we also offering education based on interests. A teacher has to make an emotional connection to a subject and has to strive for situations in which we offer education outside classroom walls. 


8 ways to support learning - with explanation


Teacher, watch out!

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