Intentional and Integrative Learning

Freshly inspired after UBC’s Learning Conference this past week – something is disturbing me. It started to build after an excellent keynote presentation by Richard Gale (Carnegie Foundation) who engaged us in thinking about our own experience as intentional learners. He finished his talk with a few questions for us to take away – related to (if I understood them) our role (individual and institutional) in assessment of integrated learning – how would we know if students are integrating their understanding of issues and concepts across contexts?

Two things come to mind:
– learning may occur in a social context but the intention for learning is always personal (and may evolve over time).
– Connections are made through experience (personal) and reflection (personal and shared – but I decide with whom)

So, if my own learning is guided by my own intentions and integrated with my own experiences (usually in life not in class)– what role does an institution have in assessing that? After all, these concepts are not new. Self-directed people have always been intentional (for many of us) formal education has not offered much. Integrated learning ( I think) is what happens naturally, if the teacher centered, assessment driven education system doesn’t completely squash the natural tendencies we have to reflect and try to replace them with formalized “tools” for reflection and self presentation that (in some cases) don’t have much appeal or just don’t fit the individual.

Universities are doing their best to try to stay relevant to today’s learners, but we still seem to be trying to re-work “new” ideas (most of which aren’t) into old structures. What if we were to completely re-structure our institutions in a way that allowed first year students to do authentic research (and contribute to a shared body of knowledge) and where the teaching role was one of facilitating social networks and opportunities rather than designing and delivering content? What if learners actually created their own learning objectives? What if our role was to teach them how to do that? What if the mission of the university was to supply an environment which supports integrative learning by guiding learners in finding their own path, asking their own questions, designing their own learning portfolios and evaluating their own experiences against a certain set of globally defined outcomes like the capacity for critical thinking and discipline based research?

George Siemens puts out an evolving list of learning propositions that he feels are related to societal shifts and technological influences on the way people learn. I would add the following assumption: the process may be social but the intention is personal. And to his list of propositions: equality among participants=personal responsibility.

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