Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Here's what learning looks like

I think this video exemplifies what real learning can often feel like. Take a look.

Safe. One of the first things I learned in teacher school was that learning only happens when people feel safe. This includes physical and emotional safety. It's important to note that the girl says "I'll be fine." Despite her obvious fear of the unknown, she is telling us that she feels safe.

Fun. If learning isn't fun then we are doing something wrong. Too many of us mistake rigor as a necessary characteristic of learning -- the secret to real learning is vigor, not rigor. If you listen closely, someone in the background says, "have fun." Vigor and fun are what make learning sustainable and life-long and fuel an attitude in the learner with a passion to go on learning.

Thrill of discovery. Learning needs to have an element of uncertainty. We need to allow learners to construct an understanding for themselves, but this requires taking a leap of faith into the unknown. Needless to say, this is risky. When she says, "Here goes something, I guess," she is embracing risk.

Self-efficacy. Learning requires a learner who believes in their abilities to complete a task or reach a goal. Learners need to attribute their success less to external factors (luck, ability, difficulty) and more to internal factors such as effort. When she says, "ok, I'm gonna do this," we get a sense that she believes that she can and will jump.

Formative feedback. Students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information. This means that the best kinds of feedback from teachers require the absence of judgment. It's important to note that "just remember, never snow plow, ok?" is free of judgement and is feedback that contains only the information the learner needs to be successful. Assessment is not a spreadsheet -- it's a conversation between the learner and the teacher. This is why the best kinds of feedback are two-way conversations. When the student asks, "do you go faster on the in-run?" she requires a timely answer from the teacher. Beginning questions lead to more sophisticated questions like, "is it (in-run) any steeper, do you think?" which again requires timely, and informative feedback from the teacher.

Constructed and Connected. Learning should connect with the learner's previous understandings and experiences. When she confidently says, "just a bigger 20, that's all," she's telling us that she's making connections between this new, unknown experience and something she understands and has experienced.

Pleasantly frustrating and fearful. Learning should be the perfect blend of pleasure, frustration and fear. Not too hard and not too easy. When she starts to breath heavy and wimper, we know that she's balancing precariously on the edge of her confidence and competence.

Encouragement and guidance. Learning is a highly social activity. It isn't often that we learn the best or the most in isolation. She needed to hear, "it's fine. You'll be fine."

Celebration and reflection. Learning should be about making projects or performances that are in a context and for a purpose, and when we have made something we need to celebrate with others. The whole purpose of assessment is so that the learner can assess themselves. "Sixty seems like nothing now," is confirmation that she is growing and improving. She didn't just learn about ski jumping -- she learned about ski jumping by doing it.


  1. i love this:) This is what learning should look like!

  2. Thanks for sharing this Joe, I am doing a presentation at the International Conference on Thinking next week in Wellington, New Zealand and I intend on sharing your Blog and this video with my audience. Thanks for the inspiration and to continuing to challenge.

  3. This IS what learning should look like :-) Thanks for the great blog!

  4. Beautiful. I am going to use this to start the new semester. Thank you for finding and posting!

    1. I ended up using this in a recent post of my own. Thanks again for sharing!

  5. I know exactly how it feels to be in her position, its inspiring to see her process!!