Innovating Pedagogy – Learning to Learn
This is the third in a series of annual reports on innovations in teaching, learning and assessment. The Innovating Pedagogy reports from Open University(UK) are intended for teachers, policy makers, academics and anyone interested in how education may change over the next ten years.
Learning how to become an effective learner
Potential impact: medium
The focus of learning is usually on what we need to know, rather than on how to learn. This can lead to frustration because there is just too much to ﬁnd out. On the other hand, the process of learning is itself a fundamental part of life that helps shape us as human beings and gives purpose to much of what we do. For a teacher, considering the process of learning to learn can help to schedule and balance learning opportunities so that they bring out the longer-lasting beneﬁts associated with being a learner.
In learning to learn, success is not linked to the content a person acquires but to their development as a learner, so that when faced with situations in the future they have the personal capability to ﬁnd new approaches or fresh information, and they are able to apply these in an effective manner. Educational content remains important, but there is a shift from a concern with delivery and assessment, towards the use of content in helping learners gain new skills. Whereas adult learning (or ‘andragogy’) is concerned with developing new skills, learning to learn (or ‘heutagogy’) also involves discovering how best to acquire those skills – in the classroom, workplace and at home – through a combination of study, discussion, investigation and practice. A teacher may provide resources, but the learner is in command of deciding how to organise them into a coherent course of study.
Connected with learning to learn is the ability to determine your own learning needs and to reﬂect continuously on the learning process. This involves developing skills of open communication and teamwork, being ﬂexible in approach and creative in new situations, and becoming conﬁdent in your ability to take appropriate and effective action in changing circumstances.
This is all based on the assumption that learners want to determine their own learning and are able to do this. There is therefore an emphasis in learning to learn on enabling young learners to make sense of their world and helping them develop creative strategies for organising their studies. There are skills and techniques to becoming a learner that can be acquired and revisited over time, supported by ‘learning to learn’ courses on how to diagnose your learning needs, set goals, ﬁnd valuable resources including other people to learn with, choose learning strategies, reﬂect on progress, develop creative skills, and evaluate learning outcomes.
Another perspective on learning to learn is how to combine personal priorities with learning opportunities. In working life, the need to get through a seemingly impossible To-Do list can make for inefﬁciencies and too much switching of attention as we try to decide what needs to be done while more work piles in. There are many self-help books that suggest ways to prioritise the important tasks as well as the urgent and pressing but more mundane. These organisational techniques are also part of some approaches to learning to learn.
Another approach is to step back and ensure an overall mindful approach to life, by considering the impact of your learning on yourself and paying attention to personal actions. Mindfulness can be supported by meditation and understanding how much of what appears to be true is in the mind – whether something is upsetting to study, too difﬁcult, or not worth the effort, is an internal judgement. Mindful learning encourages full attention on what is needed, balanced by the investment in time to gain that full attention.
An aspect of mindfulness is being able to reﬂect on yourself as a learner and how you have carried out a recent learning activity, in order to adjust your processes of learning. This approach contrasts with the normal process of ‘single-loop’ thinking that involves reacting to events, solving a problem in a familiar way and accepting information at face value. Double-loop thinking involves considering the problem at hand, looking for the greater system, so as to achieve personal development.
For a teacher, enabling double-loop learning puts the subject-based content into a larger framework where each student is encouraged to determine how, where and why they learn, and to negotiate a curriculum and learning strategies with themselves, their teacher and their peers. Open learning materials and MOOCs ﬁt into this framework by providing resources for study that suit the needs and strategies of each learner.
Learning to learn makes sense in a world where nearly half of all job titles are now expected to change within 20 years and personal values cannot be linked to ﬁxed measures of success. But the rethinking and techniques that are required for learning to learn are neither easy to acquire nor easy to teach in a classroom. Becoming a self-managed learner is not enough, as at least part of the problem in learning is too many options and unclear aims. The next steps include recognising that learning to learn is worth the investment in time, and looking for learning frameworks that bring together opportunities for learning around a mindful and reﬂective approach to life.
Sharples, M., Adams, A., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., & Whitelock, D. (2014). Innovating Pedagogy 2014: Open University Innovation Report 3. Milton Keynes: The Open University