Thoughts on Interest-Based Learning

Our second session assignments for the MIT Medial Labs Learning Creative Learning MOOC is to, in part, read through some of +Joichi Ito‘s blog posts on learning and respond with our own thoughts about what we found most surprising or interesting, and offer disagreements or questions, should we have any.  Moreover, we’re challenged to keep it short, so I’ll refrain from delving more deeply into the ideas below.

The first thing that comes to my mind in Ito’s discussions of “Formal vs. informal education” and “Reading the dictionary” is the debate between content vs. creation that I’ve been thinking about for a while (cf. a recent blog post on the question).  The formal system that the majority of schools currently work with certainly needs adjustment, but I don’t think that the system alone is to be blamed for its inability to engage interest-driven students, namely, the students who enjoy reading the dictionary.  We’ve got to adapt and find new and interesting ways to motivate them.  When Ito wonders “how many people have personalities or interests that aren’t really that suited for formal education, at least in its current form”, I first read this sentence as a reference to teachers, rather than students.

I’ve recently picked up Susan Cain’s Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking to help me to work toward an understanding of how introverted learners will be able to adapt in a more open, student-centered classroom (N.B.: that’s not the focus of the book, but rather a question I have).  If we were to radically modify our system to the purely informal model, would we exclude all the learners who thrive in the formal, structured system (e.g. Ito’s sister), like many of the introverts at our school?  Is there a proper balance between the two extremes, and if so, what does that classroom look like?

I enjoyed “Dubai and learning about the unknowable”, partly because I’m currently reading Watts’ Way of Zen, and partly because I’ve tried to build mindfulness and self-reflection into my daily routine, not only in teaching but in everything that I do.  In fact, I had a chat with a colleague about the need for us to continually reflect on why we do what we do with technology throughout the process of integration.  Given how “traditional” and content-based our school is, leaving us with little time to reflect back on everything we do in a given academic year, it’s the perfect place to learn to “meditate” on these questions.  Once we’re comfortable knowing that we don’t know all the answers and definitions of the pedagogical “buzzwords” that we’ve been throwing around lately, we can relax and start moving forward.