learning trends

& corresponding results 

In my personal experience, I have found that integration of technology has followed a similar trajectory as the development of learning theories. In my earliest experiences using technology as part of my learning process, the integration revolved around a behaviorist model, for example taking multiple-choice quizzes or practicing flashcards on the computer, which gave immediate feedback and reinforcement, either positive or negative, depending on my response to the stimulus. As an undergraduate, I worked collaboratively with peers to create wikis, which drew on constructivist ideas as we built out models of how our knowledge interconnected, but which offered little differentiation of instruction or additional media to help build long-term memory. Today, MOOCs engage learners from around the world in collaborative and social classes, in cognitivist (and connectivist) environments where students are guided by instructors to co-construct both the learning process and, in turn, knowledge in complex and thoughtful ways.

 

As technology has grown more sophisticated and educators have looked to it for more dynamic and engaging learning opportunities that build on student-centered and integrated learning philosophies, student outcomes have become more focused and measurable. The goals of educational technology have moved from simple memorization to complex 21st-century skills, including collaborative problem-solving, construction of knowledge through intrinsically-motivated processes, and socio-cultural awareness and fluency.

personal learning philosophy

In my career as an educator, I have led classes for pre-Kindergarteners and for high school science teachers; I have taught in classrooms, on farms, and in forests; I have served youth whose families gave them every advantage and youth who struggled to find a bed each night; I have tutored one-on-one and for I’ve delivered lectures to 250 students. Throughout these diverse experiences, I have found myself drawn again and again to the intersection of formal and informal education: I am passionate about using place-based, experiential programming to address state education standards in meaningful ways for students from all walks of life. 

 

In my experience, mindfully and routinely incorporating place-based environmental education into traditional education has a profound effect on learner engagement and achievement. This intersection offers a rich integrating context in which students become curious and involved citizens of their world and take ownership of and pride in their learning process, ultimately giving them the skills they need to continue growing and learning throughout their whole lives.

 

An experience that has reinforced my belief in the power of place-based education was working for two years with a population of high school students who all struggle with social, emotional, and/or behavioral disorders, and who cannot succeed in a traditional classroom setting so have been referred into a county-wide collaborative special education program. I taught this population in the context of place-based science classes at an outdoor education facility, where the students came for a week out of each academic quarter instead of going to their public school. Each week-long program included time in the classroom and time in the field, with differentiated instruction and assessment built in to each day as the students related biology, geology, environmental science, or agriculture concepts back to their own lives. All of these students were on IEPs, most of them struggled academically, and many of them viewed school as an impossible and worthless hurdle, but through a diverse range of assessment methods including traditional testing, conversational check-ins, written reflections, and observing students during activities, the teaching team tracked truly remarkable shifts. During the place-based science weeks, students were not just present but engaged, actively participating in lessons, interacting with each other, answering questions — and better yet, asking questions. They also reported higher self-esteem, they displayed pride in their work, and they expressed excitement about mastering the content. The quantitative data tell the same story: for the past two years, more than 90 percent of students who participated in this place-based science program passed their state-mandated biology MCAS exam, up from an annual pass rate of approximately 40 percent prior to the implementation of the program. 

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© 2020 Tara Laidlaw

Ashland, Oregon

Out to Learn, brown acorn