A Case for Enhanced Learning

"The greatest risk in your class is that students will not practice enough of the right skills at the right time to learn." @billhd


"Commentary: Students Aren't Learning Enough - A Brewing Crisis in Higher Education" (post) ambitiously argues that "[s]ocieties must take steps to improve the quality and quantity of learning, changing the very culture of higher education as a whole."

  • Despite such expansive over-reach, the post does distill a number of pervasive problems and offers some not unreasonable recommendations.
  • Some can be incorporated on the level of the individual instructor, others would require departmental- and/or faculty-wide coordination, and still others would be dependent on a broader, systemic change. 
  • The synopsis below highlights what is doable at the instructor, department, and/or faculty level.  

1. General Recommendations

  • "Knowledge acquisition by itself is not sufficient; higher learning entails the ability to apply such knowledge, using it to inform one’s thinking, writing or discourse."
  • This cannot be "content free. One must think and write about something, and subject-matter expertise is a necessary, contextual condition."
  • This requires "more instruction, practice, assessment and feedback than is now provided, or expected, within single courses or other isolated learning experiences."
  • "Learning how to think and write creatively, for example, are skills optimally learned over the span of an entire undergraduate programme intentionally planned and assessed by faculty and staff across all courses and programmes." 
  • "Writing-across-the-curriculum initiatives are one example of the application of this idea, but the concept can also include across-the-curriculum demand for critical thinking, problem solving and ethical development."

2. Broad Rationale

  • "A cumulative approach to higher learning requires that students are taught to an increasingly higher standard of competence – thus, a more integrative, stable and coherent education."
  • "While disciplinary competence necessarily differs across courses and programs, the core work of higher learning becomes cumulative when coursework reinforces common outcomes, intentionally progressing in complexity and sophistication towards collectively established learning goals."
  • This "requires faculty to collectively agree on which outcomes, expectations and standards to share and endorse, reinforcing them throughout all courses." 
  • Within such a goal-focused context, "faculty [require] the freedom and creativity to develop more efficacious, learner-centred curricula and pedagogy."

3. Select Problems

  • "[H]igher education ... follow[s] a relatively passive learning tradition with full responsibility for learning placed on students."
  • "The core learning outcomes proffered by higher education – critical thinking, effective written and oral communication, the ability to use rather than simply acquire knowledge to solve problems – are ineffectively attained in one or two required courses or random out-of-classroom learning experiences."
  • "Too many graduates are not prepared to think critically and creatively, speak and write cogently, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet employer expectations."
  • "[F]aculty lament, 'They were supposed to learn how to ___ before they got to my course,' filling the blank in with any number of skills."
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