Informal learning

Am I willing to give up control?

That is really what it comes down to doesn’t it?  Or at least that is a big part of it.  The formal learning environment is what most of us is used to.  We were educated in this manner and we were trained to educate in this manner.  There is not doubt that it may not be impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it can be difficult.   As an educator, I have been asked countless times why we need all these changes in education.  Many people have and still do say to me, “it worked fine for me when I was in school, so why are we changing it?”  For the most part, by “it”, they mean reading, writing and arithmetic taught to well behaved students, sitting in rows and being respectful.  That is the way I understand it anyway.

I hear from my own father, often, how he is frightened by the way the world is heading and he fears, in some ways, for our future being led by these young people who often appear uninterested, unmotivated, disrespectful, distracted and all in all heading in a wrong direction.

Oh, I am sure that some of this is true.  Education does seem to swing on a pendulum and we do often throw out perfectly good ideas and strategies to make way for the new flavour.  This is bigger then education though isn’t it?  It goes out beyond our classrooms and our schools to a much bigger audience.  The formal education that we are all used to does not need to be thrown out, but it needs to move over to make room for the new dog on the block-informal learning.  I mentioned before that my parents could not have possibly prepared me for the world that I live in today.  They had no idea what changes would come about, just as we, as educators supposedly preparing our students for the future, really have no idea what changes will come about in their lives.  We can guess and make predictions, but we really do not know.  One thing that we know for sure right now though, is that there are uncountable opportunities available for learning and sharing and that if we do not allow our students the opportunity to learn from each other and others, we will for sure be doing them a disservice.

I sat in a inservice session yesterday on preparing ourselves for the new curriculum documents in Saskatchewan that are turning up on so many of our desks at break neck speed.  They are based on constructivism.  Letting students ask their own questions about learning and letting them  play a much bigger role in how they will meet the learning outcomes.  One of the things that occurred to me was that it requires teachers to take a back role.  To step back and let the students learn and in doing so we give up control.

For me it really aligned with the idea of informal learning.  To allow students to participate in informal learning within our formal learning environments also requires that teachers give up some control.  That they let students take the lead and they become a facilitator of learning rather than information feeders.

In my job as an educator I feel not only obligated to allow my students to communicate and learn informally, but I also feel compelled to give them those opportunities.  I don’t think that I can feel that I am doing my job without allowing them to learn beyond me and despite of me.

In my job as an administrator, I think I must educate my teachers, as well, on the advantages of letting go and then I must support them in that endeavour.  Many of us feel like we are flying by the seats of our pants in a strange and unfamiliar environment.  It is important that we reach out and help those that are reluctant, just as members of this class have reassured me at the beginning of my journey into this strange new social network. Yes it may require great change in thinking and a lot of educating of parents and community members, but hopefully we will be surprised at the benefits.

3 thoughts on “Am I willing to give up control?”

  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, but (to extend the metaphor whatever that is) be careful the nail doesn’t hit you back.

    I appreciate your remarks about coaching teachers to relinquish control, to enable learners to be at the centre of it all, to take responsibility to drive their own learning.


    You mention that as one of your new Admin roles. I would suggest to you that you have a few other New Roles as well: Is there a Teacher-Centred model as regards the adoption of technology? Is there an easily accessible, well-maintained computer for every teacher? Is there inservice? Are they forced to use systems like BCeSIS that barely function?


    Do you uphold your teachers’ professional autonomy? Or do you have “bad sites” like FaceBook and YouTube blocked? Are you open to allowing students to access content with teachers’ supervision that might cause parents to show up in your office, asking why their kid is Twittering instead of writing Haikus and Cinquains? Will you support your teachers unconditionally in this new realm?

    I ask these questions because (if it’s not already obvious that I have an agenda), as the “IT specialist” teacher, I have yet to encounter any of the above scenarios. My admin tends to operate from a place of fear and doubt, and shift blame onto teachers where possible, taking little or no responsibility for this shift in control, as you do seem open to.

    So if my questions made you righteously indignant, Yay! If they made you uncomfortably introspective, even better!

    Good luck in the course– I popped in to last Tuesday’s Elluminate session, and I’m dead jealous I didn’t get classes like that in Grad School!

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    But while educating teachers about the locus of control is necessary, it’s insufficient. A large part of the (real, as opposed to stated) function of a typical school is to control the movement of large numbers of students: high schools in Canada and the United States have 1200 to 4000 students–think timetables, bells, long hallways lined with lockers with classrooms branching off. None of this has anything to do with best teaching practices. Indeed, if you think Flow author,<a href=""<Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has anything to say, that structure is counterproductive. And whatever else a teachers does, it’s harder to let go of control in a class of 25 – 30 than it is a class of, say, 10. Even standardized tests are in part a reflection of the need to control, insofar as the data they yield directs future funding and helps filter large numbers of graduates for colleges and universities. At some point, the effort to maintain control over so many overtakes the effort to teach them anything in any sound way.

    I worry that the best sorts of teachers, those who have an intuitive understanding of the fluid nature of control in a classroom, will be stymied and frustrated unless administrations at all levels make changes, too.

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