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Learning in the wild

I have a love/hate relationship with my brain. I’m rarely ever clear on an issue as context always messes up what exists. Something can be useful in one context, and completely useless in another. An idea can make sense in one discussion and yet be confusing in another. For example, I work in a formal higher education environment. I see the value that a structured course has for newcomers to a field. A course provides a scaffolded encounter with new concepts and ideas. Yet, I read articles like this that state:

This process of ‘informal science education’ is patchy, ad hoc and at the mercy of individual whim, all of which makes it much more difficult to measure than formal instruction. But it is also pervasive, cumulative and often much more effective at getting people excited about science — and an individual’s realization that he or she can work things out unaided promotes a profoundly motivating sense of empowerment.

…and I am struck with the inefficiencies of direct instruction and formal education (and training). I see the value of higher education…but increasingly, I see what formal education takes from students, not only what it gives. What does it take? Inquisitiveness, tolerance of ambiguity (there is a right answer), serendipity, social sensemaking, and curiosity.

One Comment

  1. Chrissy Welter wrote:

    I recently graduated from college and I’ve been struggling with that frustration for most of my school career. To some extent I was able to alleviate the issues for myself by going to an alternative high school and then a small liberal arts college, which provided a bit more freedom to do cool things with what I was learning as opposed to spending 95% of the time just learning and repeating facts. On the other hand, that kind of loose environment also lets people who aren’t as motivated fall to the wayside. I can say I had truly fantastic opportunities because I made them for myself, and that was much easier to do in those environments, but in both my high school and college, I was also surrounded by people who were sliding by with barely passing grades and I have to wonder how much they were learning about anything.

    It’s just a really difficult question. I am a firm believer that the current system of formal education is broken in some ways, but I have yet to figure out what I think is the best way to fix it.

    On a different note, the organization I work for (National Education Foundation) recently started publishing our own blog ( ) regarding learning and technology, and I wondered if you might be interested in affiliating with us. If you’d post a link to us from here, we’d be happy to list you on our blogroll in return. Let me know if you’re interested!

    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink