There are a lot of questions rolling around in my head right now. I’m suspecting that by the time I finish writing this post, there will be as many question marks as periods. I’m also pretty sure that’s not going to be a bad thing, especially if you can help me explore the space that lies between the questions I’m pondering and the answers I hope to find.

How do you learn? How do you work from a space of ignorance to one of expertise? What conditions must exist for learners to feel empowered to invent their own learning paths? And who is responsible for that ensuring that learning occurs?

While the video is meant to be an observation of our tendency to be  a sedentary society, I can relate to it because it can also be seen as a metaphor for the inertia I sometimes see in education when it comes to technology use.

I’m disheartened when I hear someone say to me “I couldn’t get anyone to answer my technology question and so I gave up.” What does that model for our students? If there’s no-one there to light the way from step A to step B, does that mean we shouldn’t explore the way on our own?

In the early 1990s, Gerald Grow proposed  the “Stages Self Directed Learning Model” to explore how instruction can be built to move learners through 4 stages of learning:

  1. Dependent Learner with Authoritative Coach. Direct instruction, drill and lecture are the primary modes of learning.
  2. Interested Learner with Guide. Lectures followed by guided discussions are a primary mode of learning.
  3. Involved Learner with Facilitator. Learning consists of activities such as group discussions among those who are considered equals.
  4. Self-directed Learner with Consultant. Independent research and self-directed study are primary modes of learning.

In the 21 years I’ve been at this, I’ve seen far too many teachers who leave the technology sitting in the back of the room, not because they’ve consciously decided it doesn’t meet their instructional needs, but because they’re waiting for someone to show them what to do next. I’m willing to serve as an authoritative coach or guide and give them support as they explore new tools. But, I don’t want them to be continually dependent on someone else to help them learn how technology works. I want to move them to a space where they can be involved and self-directed.

I worry sometimes when we try to make things easier for our end users. When we give them pre-packaged activity sites and lesson plans and call it technology integration. I’m not sure I always want to make things easy. Accessible, sure. Attainable, absolutely. But easy implies that there is no effort or cognitive load required to achieve a desired outcome. It assumes that people can never progress beyond a dependence on others to know how or what to do next.

Learning is hard. It’s filled with obstacles and road blocks. In my mind, easy should be a 4 letter word. Because by making things easy, we’re obscuring the opportunities to help people learn not only the task at hand, but the ways to continually learn in the future. By always making things easy, we’re removing the opportunities to learn how to move from the unfamiliar to the understandable.

I’m intrigued with Grow’s theory, especially as it applies to the work we’re doing to help teachers learn how to learn about using technology. What Grow proposes can be a model for moving folks beyond the training model of technology instruction – one that’s easy to deliver, but doesn’t often lead to changed instructional practices. He also ends his paper as I will this post; with more things to ponder.

I’m asking myself three questions quite often lately. How can I structure the learning opportunities I provide so that they build understanding in a way that empowers users? How can I make sure I’m not enabling helplessness while still providing support? How can I help teachers grow to see themselves as learners too?

Those are a few of the questions I’m wrestling with right now. And it’s not easy.

3 Responses to “Easy is a four letter word.”
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michelle Bourgeois, Angie Buys. Angie Buys said: RT @budtheteacher: Reading "Easy is a four letter word," by @milobo. You should, too. http://milobo.edublogs.org/2010/09/17/easy-is-a-four-letter-word/ [...]

  2. I LOVE this post!! I spent 8 years as a Technology Staff Developer, and many teachers were constantly telling me that they were not “tech-savvy.” I grew to detest that terminology! For some, that term was a cover for their embarrassment of not knowing something they felt they should know. With a few tips and tricks in a workshop, they were off and running! For many, however, that term was a get out of jail free card- an excuse NOT to use technology. These were usually the ones who brought newspapers to the workshops. (Boo!)

    One I will always remember: a teacher who was very cranky about being in one of my workshops said something to the effect that not everyone had the same “background” as I did. When I told her my background was music education, she didn’t really know what to say. I asked her- how do you think I learned everything I know? You have to take responsibility of your learning, especially as adults who are educators!

    When more people understand that teachers must first and foremost be learners, I think we will see a bigger shift in education. Great post, Michelle!

  3. Kyle A says:

    Very interesting post Michelle. I have been thinking about the same topic lately and I agree it is a complex issue. I happen to believe in the struggle of learning. I enjoy it. But I don’t think it is our job to make teachers struggle. Rather, it is our job to inspire them to SEEK the struggle. Tough ideas (like this one) can not be shrunk and made ‘easy’. That is what makes this topic important and worth exploring. Maybe we spend too much time talking and working on things that are not really worth exploring.

    If we create learning spaces for uninspired teachers to learn about ‘technology tools’, it was a wasted space to begin with. If the focus of the spaces is to inspire educators to provided opportunities to their students by using a specific tool then it has a shot to be valuable. Why make learning the tool the hard part? Make the part about learning the tool as easy as possible and try to provide an learning environment that is dedicated to thinking about the important stuff.

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