Learning Strategies Should Be The Focus of Educators

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Dear Dr. Fournier:

You seem to spend a lot of time discussing the future of education and that you use various “learning strategies” to educate the students that you work with. Not everyone has access to people like you. What do you think we can realistically expect to see in the future of education, and how do new concepts like your “learning strategies” fit in?

Tim B.

Atlanta, GA

Dear Tim:

Your skepticism regarding the educational system in this country is well founded. It can be frustrating to watch our educational leaders continue to try and treat the symptoms instead of curing the disease that is the continued use of the Industrial Era model of education. The system itself, while efficient and appropriate for its time, is clearly now out of touch with the needs of the student who seeks to find a place in our globalized world.

ASSESSMENT:

Thankfully, I am not alone in identifying the current model of education as the culprit. Those of us in education who keep an eye on PISA – the Program for International Student Assessment – have seen that the “performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context,” shows the U.S. now ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Unfortunately, these numbers have been in steady decline for some time, and given our present approach there is no reason to speculate that a turnaround is imminent. As a result, there are others who have called for a change in the model of education by focusing on the learning styles of the students to ensure learning is taking place.

In the past, teachers and administrators have reacted to the idea of learning styles with resistance, because the idea of singling out one student and teaching him a different way seems like a lot of extra work that the teacher cannot commit to. There is also the fear that the teacher or school would be showing favoritism or affording special privileges to certain students. After all, if most of the students are “getting it” from traditional means, then is it not the student’s problem?

While there are those who still follow this line of thinking, what cannot be ignored is that it is no longer one or two different “apples.” It is an epidemic.

What I call learning strategies and what others call learning styles are not the same. A learning style is a description of a particular path to understanding that works best for a specific student. For example, there are

1. ACTIVE AND REFLECTIVE LEARNERS

2. SENSING AND INTUITIVE LEARNERS

3. VISUAL AND VERBAL LEARNERS

4. SEQUENTIAL AND GLOBAL LEARNERS

I will not delve into what the specifics are of each of these styles or how they function for learners (feel free to read about them from the link at the bottom), but let us suffice to say that teaching to an active learner who prefers group activities with tactile application and teaching to a reflective learner who prefers to work alone demands approaches that are specific to each individual if both are to master the information to be taught. Since it is a difficult proposition to expect teachers with a classroom full of students to get this done under the present mandates of education, I try to empower the student by giving them the know how to create strategies of their own.

This is where learning strategies enter the equation. Learning strategies do not need to match with a learning style, so they are more flexible. These strategies mean that someone else has come up with a process of decision-making, with the only caveat being that at the end of the process there is success. If the strategy did not produce success, then a new one is used. They are never absolute. As the learner takes charge of the process, he or she is going to intuit new ways to approach their learning. The key is to force a student to travel through the decisions to the action.

You asked what to do if you do not have access to people like me. I say that you do! A perfect example of the marriage of modern technology and learning styles into a unique learning strategy is the experiment that is presently being used by Sal Khan, who began recording lectures online on YouTube and are now viewed by tens of thousands of teachers and students every day. He initially began doing this simply to tutor his cousin, whom they helped immensely. Other students in need of aid saw and used these videos with great success as well. Sal had created a learning type that has now drawn in the learners who need a style like this – in this case a tutor they can pause, rewind, and the like, and all on their own terms and at their own speeds. This phenomenon will only grow, and explorations into open source learning are gaining in popularity.

Remember, just because we were taught with a teacher in front of a chalkboard and books does not mean that this is the ultimate model of education to which the children of this generation must aspire.

WHAT TO DO:

What I call learning strategies are simply students’ individual ways to take data offered in lectures, books, handouts, videos and the internet and make it their own. I emphasize three steps that help students take ownership of a learning task:

1. Organization

2. Planning

3. Strategizing

The concept of organization must come first, beginning with basic skills such as keeping track of notes and papers. This evolves into maintaining an organized inventory of errors in spelling, math and other subjects helps the student learn to correct those error patterns and avoid repeating mistakes.

Planning often is a natural consequence of organization, but it is still a skill that needs to be taught. The basic planning tool at first glance is a calendar that serves as a personal time-management schedule, but in reality helps keep track of much more. All activities, from schoolwork to personal responsibilities, are logged, the time needed for each task assessed, and a plan for achieving it all developed.

The successful strategizer adapts easily to change by constantly reassessing techniques, knowledge and skills as they become obsolete, and planning new ones that will meet new challenges.

Facts may become obsolete, but learning how to learn will last a lifetime.

Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier

CONTACT DR. FOURNIER

Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. She has followed her own roadmap in becoming arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today.