by Anne White
I've just started reading Making Sense of Adult Learning, by Dorothy MacKeracher. In the first chapter, "Assumptions about Learning," she says:
"My understanding of learning is based on a learning-centred approach to learning-teaching interactions. The learning-centred approach focuses primarily on the learning process and the characteristics of the learner, and secondarily on teaching and the characteristics of those who help the learner to learn. Only when I focus my attention on the learning process and the learner do I understand more clearly what competent teaching, facilitating, training, planning, advising, and counselling processes would be like."
In other words, it's not about the teacher, and it's not even (primarily) about the content: it's about the meaning and connections that the student makes with that content. The science of relations, self-education.
MacKeracher then contrasts the learner-centred approach with possible other views of learning. She says that the focus could be on:
"the content (knowledge or skills) to be learned and how it is organized and presented...; the cognitive strategies and skills to be used and how these can be strengthened through training [Herbart rules!] ; appropriate learning behaviours and how these can be elicited and modified through selected stimuli and reinforcement; the technologies to be used as an aid to learning and how they limit or enhance learning; or the facilitator and his or her facilitating activities." "In these approaches, learners would be perceived and assessed in terms of their competency to learn the content, how well they use cognitive strategies..." etc.
See where it goes? We as teachers judge, assess the students based on our own focus. If our focus is content-based, we will be satisfied if they can parrot back the content. If we think it's all about behaviourism, we'll be marking them on what they do when we ring our little bells. If it's all about the teacher...heaven help us.
Now all this is part of an approach to adult education, in all its possible situations and contexts. And if you imagine a night school class, what she's saying seems like common sense. You sign up for a class in computer skills or cooking or counselling, and you (the learner) have certain expectations. You certainly have the right to hope that, in most cases, such a class will be as much about you, the learner, learning, as it will be about the content; to hope that the instructor, if it's a small enough class, will have at least some interest in who you are and what you bring to the course. (Clarification: I don't mean getting all chummy with the teacher, but more in the sense of how the course is designed.) Most people will understand this naturally, because even if they never teach a class themselves, they will almost certainly have to, or choose to, sit through training sessions or upgrading courses or even sermons. And although such courses might have some very specific content to be learned (like welding skills), it still makes a difference who's learning it and what they then go and do with it.
The irony, for those familiar with Charlotte Mason's philosophy, is that this is old stuff for us. That's what we do too. That's how we teach children. As Cindy Rollins said in a 2013 Circe talk, it's not what we teach, it's what they learn.
So the question that it raises for me is--if that's how adult education is served up in the big world (and that's a good thing), are the kids still stuck with chicken nuggets and canned pasta? Is some researcher or professor out there saying the same thing to elementary and high school teachers?
Oh, I hope so.