Learning Is A Journey

Learning is a journey. Learning has never been about reaching a destination. It is a process, not a product. Yet many education systems have failed to accept this reality. Sadly, formalised learning is usually characterised by product based objectives. ‘The learner will be able to…’ or ‘by the end of this lesson the student will…’ seem to run counter to the true nature of learning – the journey.

By contrast, process based learning does not require an individual to achieve any set standard or level of skill or knowledge, but is a way of creating environments, opportunities and motivations for people to learn more, and to optimise their learning. Formalised learning should not be about control. It should focus on trust. The educational theorist and humanist Carl Rogers once wrote that we should aim to foster ‘a climate of trust in the classroom in which curiosity and the natural desire to learn can be nourished and enhanced’ (Rogers, 1983).

Industrialised education systems were criticised by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1993) who decried the shallow nature of formal schooling. He argued that schooling turned students into ‘”receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.’ Freire’s banking concept of education is well known. It is premised on the idea of students reaching a destination – being ‘filled’ with facts. The final exam marks the end of that journey.

Learning is more than mere acquisition of knowledge, or being filled with facts. Learning is a complex process that requires commitment on the part of the learner in pursuance of their interests, exploration of their physical and social environments and discovery of the self. There is also a definitive role for teachers, who should support, scaffold and facilitate these learning efforts. However, in formal education, emphasis is placed firmly on the delivery of subject knowledge, delivered in compartments, and assessed largely in the cognitive domain.

All of formal education points firmly in the direction of products, with scant attention paid to the process of learning. Many commentators have argued that we should return to the true meaning of pedagogy, a subject I have also expanded upon here. Recently, Moravec (2013) argued that pedagogy is not about instruction, ‘but the responsibility teachers take for the process by which (the) student becomes a fully developed human being, engaged with the reality of the world.’ This makes eminent sense. But many schools remain mired in the product of learning, because this is demanded by the assessment regime. Simply, teaching is driven by assessment.

Therefore, the best way to transform the product into a process is to change assessment.

Friere, P. (1993) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.
Moravec, J. W. (Ed: 2013) Knowmad Society. Charleston, SC: Education Futures.
Rogers, C. R. (1983) Freedom to Learn. Columbus, OH: Merrill Publishing.

About the author – Steve Wheeler:

Steve is a Learning Innovations Consultant and former Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the Plymouth Institute of Education where he chaired the Learning Futures group and led the Computing and Science education teams. He continues to research into technology supported learning and distance education, with particular emphasis on the pedagogy underlying the use of social media and Web 2.0 technologies, and also has research interests in mobile learning and cybercultures.

He has given keynotes to audiences in more than 35 countries and is author of more than 150 scholarly articles, with over 6000 academic citations. An active and prolific edublogger, his blog Learning with ‘e’s is a regular online commentary on the social and cultural impact of disruptive technologies, and the application of digital media in education, learning and development. In the last few years it has attracted in excess of 7.5 million unique visitors.

1 Comment
  1. Paul Jocelyn 2 years ago

    Hi Steve, thanks for posting this really interesting article; this really resonates with me! I came across a great quote from the folks at corporate-rebels.com that fits nicely here:

    “Efficiency has to make place for engagement and adaptability”

    I’ll take a look at your other blogs 🙂

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