Our life looks trivial, and we shun to record it. – Emerson

Independence Enforcement

This is week two of #rhizo14 – Rhizomatic Learning – and Dave is asking,  “How can we take people who’ve spent their whole lives believing that this is ‘learning’ and MAKE them independent?”

He explains this a little more in the video intro for the week and places this in the context of his own course, ED366, Educational Technology and the Adult Learner. Even though this course is aimed at teachers, he says that they have difficulty understanding that what happens in institutionalized instruction is not necessarily learning.  (Dave makes a box with his hands and peers through it).


Well, the idea is that you hop from door to door. There are lots of metaphors here… keep to the beaten path, the wolf eats the wandering sheep, and so on. The general mood is of danger lurking – so do what you’re told.

So, to paraphrase Dave, How can we compel people to take responsibility for their own learning?

Teachers are planners and planning assumes control. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is relinquish control of my class – give them control of their time and their space. I have not been completely successful… but I’m getting there.  I don’t think we can talk about students becoming free until we are willing to set them free.

Dave says that teachers set objectives, assess progress and give direction. How can people believe that this is ‘learning’ – and if they believe it, how can they ever learn anything?

This is interesting. Dave’s ED366 course, according to its course description, is about “the integration of current and future online computer technologies into today’s and tomorrow’s classroom [and provides] an overview of current computer based technology (e.g. multimedia applications, streaming audio, streaming video, online audio chat, online discussion forums, web conferencing, blogs as well as other evolving technologies),” [ ED#366 Revised Course Description ].  A teacher could make a lot of choices here, but Dave’s designed his course to be reasonably unstructured.

I teach English. My course is structured by colleagues who think that learning is the same as covering material in textbooks. They believe that if we cover the material students must learn. If students don’t learn, then it’s because someone didn’t do something right – teacher didn’t cover, or student didn’t do.

I don’t think my subject is much different than Dave’s – it is vaguely contained in a parade of important sounding nouns, but it actually rests on development and mastery of a limited range of skills: we do not stream video, we use video to say something that is worth saying. We do not write to arrange 500 words in 5 paragraphs; we write because we have something worth saying. Everyone has something worth saying.

Coverage doesn’t bother me anyway. I can uncover whatever my colleagues have covered, and by doing this I think we have a chance.

Dave says that making people independent means that they learn how to self assess and self re-mediate. If you are familiar with language teaching then you might have heard of Stephen Krashen. Krashen talks a a lot about self-assessment and self-remediation in the context of language development and literacy.  Krashen’s monitor hypothesis is all about this. One of the techniques he promotes is free voluntary reading. I think it goes like this: to learn to read, you must read. To read well you need to enjoy what you’re reading. To enjoy what you’re reading, you must choose what to read yourself. To read well, you must have no reason for reading other than your desire to do so.  Then you will enjoy reading. You will read, and you will learn.

Krashen has been saying this for at least 30 years. It’s the only thing that works. But education is not evidence driven. This is why you’ve never heard of it.

So, I think we can help people to become free and independent learners but to do this we need to be patient and caring. It can be like re-introducing a wild animal into the bush, after it has been reared by people … like Born Free. (Musical Interlude here)

And it can also be a personal journey, the answer to a call, as with Buck, in Call of the Wild. It can happen with a mentor, or without, but its happening unfolds naturally once we unlearn whatever it is we learned in school.