A Shift in the Focus of Learning

It started with a quote, this seed of an idea that I have in my head.


That simple thought took me down a road to a popular question in the world of education, “What should schools look like in the future?” With that question in mind, here are a couple of my thoughts on that matter.

To think that schools will look dramatically different in the future is a radical idea; afterall, schools are not completely broken. There are many things about schools, as they are currently constructed, that are very beneficial to students and continue to meet their needs. One such aspect of schools that comes to mind is a microcosm of community. Students learn how to be a member of society within the safe confines of the school building. Sure they learn the lessons delivered through the content, but it is the interactions and relationships that are developed along the way that also guide students in their development toward adulthood.

On the otherhand, there are many aspects of school that are outdated and no longer serve the population that we are trying to prepare for life outside the confines of the school building. Many people would argue that the giving of grades falls into this category. Though that tends to be an extreme opinion, believers in this concept argue that concept mastery is the objective of learning and therefore grades are nothing more than either a punitive measure or a meritless reward that does nothing to promoting internal motivation for learning.

Schools of the future must address the most fundamental change necessary for student success. In my opinion that change is a shift from “what you know” to “how you find and use”. No longer is it necessary for students to memorize facts and figures; the vast majority of the population has a mini-computer in their pocket almost 24/7. The conversation below is in a nutshell the heart of the issue.

Student: Hey Mr. Ming, do we need to memorize the periodic table?
Me: Why do you think you should memorize the periodic table?
Student: Because my mom told me she had to when she had chemistry in high school.
Me: Did your mom have a computer in her pocket at all times with all of the information on the periodic table?
Student: Ah no. But isn’t it important?
Me: The information isn’t nearly as important as understanding how to use it.
Student: So, can we just learn how to use it instead of memorizing it?
Me: Absolutely!

The Common Core State Standards are a beginning step toward addressing this need to shift the focus of learning. Make no mistake, the CCSS are not curriculum, but rather they are standards of student understanding that tackle the need to move student learning more toward the process of information usage. Rather than being enough to memorize a series of facts and dates, the CCSS require application of the information in a more real-world type of set up.

How do we as educators address this need going forward? That is the topic of a future post.

1 Comment

Filed under education

One response to “A Shift in the Focus of Learning

  1. Pingback: Envisioning Schools of Tomorrow | Reflections in the Education Pool

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