18 August 2014

The Responsibility of Learning

The following originally appeared in the blog "Musings of a Factotum" on August 18, 2008.

I am an American Soldier.

My brief experience in the United States Army has been eye-opening. It strikes me with awe to think of the vast resources with which we are trained to fulfill our mission, and the professionalism with which most soldiers approach it. It has also given me plenty to think about in terms of learning.

Whether it's called "training," or "learning," the process is the same. What I get at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) depends upon the same fundamental principles as what a third-grader gets in his science lesson, or what a high school math teacher tries to give her students in a geometry lesson.

Given that an organizational goal is that its students learn some set of information, the entire responsibility of the affair rests on the organization. When students are learning, or don't meet the programmed outcomes, then at least one of the things designed to produce the outcome has failed. In standards-based teaching system, instruction is planned from the end goal. Each instructional unit is designed to bridge the gap that exists between students' abilities and the standard ability.

For example, if I want to teach someone how to create a header in MS Word, and I plan the instruction, then I would expect anyone who received my instruction to be able to create a header. If the student attempted to follow my instruction and couldn't create the header, then some part of my instruction was faulty. There is no other way around it.

Teachers have a hard time coming to grips with this reality. They want to attribute all of the gaps in learning to students. True, some student behaviors contribute to a lack of learning, but instruction can resolve such a lack.

The military instructors at DINFOS need to learn the lesson even more. If a certain instructional strategy consistently has bad reviews and results in poor knowledge acquisition, then it should be abandoned. When do teachers continue to put their faith in methods that yield such dismal results?

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