Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Learning for a Lifetime

There are buzzwords, fluff, and fads that run through pop culture, fashion, politics, and, yes, even in education. “Lifelong learner” is a good one. It makes sense that teachers would be lifelong learners because we are interested in education. Learning is our business. Learning for a lifetime is not a fad, or fluff, or a buzzword; it is a valuable trait we hope to see flourish in our students and ourselves.

Learning has meant many different things over the years. In the 1920s, film became a popular tool that many dismissed as a fad while others embraced its potential as a learning tool. In 1922, Thomas Edison wrote about the ways he believed film would revolutionize education and one way was by activating the senses. Students would see and hear information in a different way from different perspectives. Edison believed film would change the way students learn and teachers teach and in many ways, he was right. Film led the way to television and in 1952, the FCC allocated 242 television channels that would be used for educational purposes. Students were, in fact, learning in a different way. Teachers were teaching in a different way.

The educational technology tools from 1920 - 1970 were mostly film and television. However, it was clear that film and television were making a difference in the landscape of education. It’s no coincidence to me that B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, and Benjamin Bloom all developed and published their educational philosophies in the 1950s.

I often wonder what it was like for teachers during that educational technology movement. I wonder how they felt about film and television changing their classrooms. I wonder what they would have thought about a classroom in 2015 where film and television are old standards, not modern, ground-breaking exceptions.

I wonder how teachers in the 1950s and 1960s felt about Benjamin Bloom publishing Bloom’s Taxonomy and if they thought it was a passing fad or fluff. I wonder if they would be happy to find the innovative ways Bloom’s is still being used in 2015.

I’m grateful to the educators in that timeframe who embraced lifelong learning and were open to seeing how Edison, Skinner, Piaget, Bloom, and others have changed the way we teach and learn. I thank those educators for learning how to use television, film, personal calculators, overhead projectors, and other emerging technologies as learning tools. Sure, they seem simple now but back then, it was life changing. To me, those educators are great examples of lifelong learners who were dedicated to their own learning as well as the learning of their students. It could not have been easy for them and yet, they did it.

Pair that monumental change in the classroom with the social climate of that timeframe which included segregated schools, sexism, racism, and so many other unfair and unequal learning conditions. The teachers I have met in person who lived through that and tell me stories are fascinating. Their determination to teach themselves and their students is inspiring and that is why they are my lifelong learning role models. As I said before, it could not have been easy, but they did it. The way we teach today is rooted in their hard work and dedication to learning for themselves and their students.

And here we are now, in the midst of another movement in educational technology. Instead of television and film, this one is largely inspired by the Internet and the use of educational apps and websites in classrooms. We are seeing new philosophies emerging such as Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model, Understanding by Design which was developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, the TPACK model of tech integration, ISTE’s Technology Standards, and those are just the ones off the top of my head. Is it fluff? Is it a fad? Are we looking at just a silly buzzword? I say definitely not, but I meet many people who do believe it is.

I am choosing to proceed in my career like my lifelong learning role models. I remain a learner in my adult life and continue to be open to the learning potential in these tools. Of course, this is not easy. It takes a lot of work to be a good consumer and know what is an effective and useful technology tool and what is not. It’s hard to learn and use the apps when they change by the day. Our social climate is different in some ways and very much the same in other ways. Some issues have improved but many challenges remain and new challenges have arisen. And we all know a new set of issues is very likely on the horizon, waiting for the next set of lifelong learners to tackle.

No, lifelong learning is not easy. No one ever said it would be. But lifelong learners know that. Lifelong learners are constantly working to address those issues and tackle those challenges in new and innovative ways. Lifelong learners are digital leaders because they are open and willing to learn how new tools, philosophies, strategies, and ideas can help address the needs of all learners - adults and students.

Those teachers before us who worked so hard to be lifelong learners have given us a tremendous gift and we all still reap its benefits. I choose to be a lifelong learner now in hopes that one day our work will make a lasting impact. I am now and will always be a learner.