Over the past several years I have developed an approach to my own teaching that has been in slow but constant evolution.  This framework has been particularly linked with my own learning across various contexts in my life, including in the sciences of teaching and learning, language learning (French, Spanish, Portuguese), cognitive sciences, and educational research.  

At different times I have called this framework a Connected Learning strategies approach, inspired by Mimi Ito and the DML crew and their work on Connected Learning.  Connected learning is largely a sociocultural approach (an approach that informs much of my work) that views learning as embedded in meaningful practices and supportive relationships, situated in cultural contexts.  Connected learning is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational (or economic or civic) opportunities. The most essential feature of connected learning is when learners pursue a personal interest or passion and are able to link a range of informal learning opportunities, whether self-directed, incidental, or tacit to their learning in formal academic or professional contexts.  The concepts, therefore, of connecting learning across one’s life (lifewide learning) and throughout one’s life (lifelong learning) are essential themes in my work.

The work of John Hattie has also been very influential, whose thesis of Visible Learning states “when teaching and learning are “visible” – that is, when it is clear what teachers are teaching and what students are learning, student achievement increases”.  Hattie’s work taught me that the essential role of the teacher is to evaluate the impact they have on their students.  We should, therefore, always be reflecting on the impact our teaching has on student learning (or achievement, or whatever else you’d like to call it).  Additionally, his work highlights two of the most essential skills for learning (any task, knowledge, skill, or performance) as concentration and deliberate practice, two concepts I introduce regularly throughout my teaching.  In particular, deliberate practice  has been elaborated by K. Anders Ericsson in his work on expertise (listen to a great podcast here on what leads to greatness, by one of my favorite shows, Freakonomics Radio).  In short, deliberate practice involves the following elements:

• It is doing activities that are specifically designed (often by a teacher) to improve performance.

• It can and should be repeated a lot.

• There is continuous feedback available that should be acted upon.

• It is highly demanding physically or mentally.

• It isn’t much fun.

By the way, for those familiar with the popularization of the 10,000 hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell (who also has an excellent podcast called Revisionist History) in his book Outliers, this rule is based on the principle of Deliberate Practice. 

For me, a learning strategies/learning routines approach is essential for deep and meaningful learning.   It is equally important to realize that learning IS demanding, and often not fun, pushing students to the boundaries of their comfort, but this is where the learning happens, where expertise comes from, from math, to languages, to computer science, learning is a demanding and sometimes pleasureless activity.

Finally, my research and teaching has recently been significantly influenced by the work of Brigid Barron, Norman Jackson and the Edulab Research Group (among others) who have advanced the analytical and conceptual framework of Learning Ecologies.  My current doctoral research strives to make visible the contribution of digital learning ecologies to the development and process of student learning in higher education.  This research uses Barron’s definition of a learning ecology as “the set of contexts found in physical or virtual spaces that provide opportunities for learning. Each context is comprised of a unique configuration of activities, material resources, relationships, and the interactions that emerge from them” (2006 p. 195). My research analyzes the ways online graduate students shape and configure their digital learning ecologies as well as how they approach learning (what they do to learn) and conceive of learning (what they think they are learning) in networked online higher education across a spectrum formal and informal digital scenarios.

Of course, I have a variety of other interests in the new sciences of learning, or meta-learning, including going deeper into metacognition and metacognitive strategies in the classroom, the concept of flow and learning as the secret to happiness, (see Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), exploring ecological views on learning, understanding self-regulated and self-determined learning, and, as John Biggs (1985) explains, further digging down into meta learning as the state of “being aware of and taking control of one’s own learning”.   It appears I am on a constant quest of being aware of, and taking control of my own learning across all areas of my life.  This blog, then, is an open invitation to join me on this adventure.  And, as the nature of my own research, teaching and learning suggests, it will be at times formal and other times quite informal, incidental and social. Come join in.

Oh yeah….and podcasts.  Lots and lots of podcasts (as you can see, I referenced two in this first post).  That’s the secret to learning!!

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