Friday, April 27, 2012

Learning, Doing, and TED-Ed

A recent post by Shelly Blake-Plock on TeachPaperless, The Problem with TED Ed, suggests that the lessons presented through TED-Ed are not really lessons at all because they do not require any "doing."  With the doing part out of the equation, there is no learning and, therefore, no lesson.

Before I share some of my thoughts on learning, I should make a few points clear.

  • I am a subscriber to TeachPaperless through my Google Reader and have long enjoyed the challenging posts shared on that blog.  As a matter of fact, it was probably the first blog I subscribed to (at the suggestion of a friend).
  • The thoughts shared in this post are not intended as a critique of the opinions shared on TeachPaperless.  Instead, my thoughts were inspired by the TeachPaperless, and for that I am grateful for having learned a little more about myself.
  • I am a big supporter of TED and TED-Ed.  As a matter of fact, I have used TED and TED-Ed talks/videos as the primary resource for my own grade level meetings with middle school students.  I was also an early joiner of the TED-Ed forums which was an early phase to the development of what TED-Ed is today.
Now, back to the learning.

Yes, TeachPaperless is right.  Doing is learning.  When we learn to tie our shoes or a tie, we do so by doing it over and over again.  So, yes, doing is learning.

But...

Doing is not the only learning.

If you examine learning as knowing something new as a result of going through a process, doing does not and cannot be the only learning.  I say this not as a critique of learning by doing.  As a matter of fact, I am a big proponent of active learning, especially in middle school.  However, anytime one walks away from an experience with more knowledge than they did going in, learning takes place.  For example, on day one of a history class, a student walks in with a bank of knowledge about the subject.  Let's say for the sake of argument that the teacher ONLY lectures all year - no doing lessons.  On the last day of school, that same student leaves with more knowledge of the topics and even clears up some previously unclear understandings.  Sure, the AMOUNT of learning may not be as much, but even if the student's level of understanding moved just a small amount, learning took place.

The point here is that learning can happen in many forms.  Doing is one of them - and a powerful and meaningful one for sure.  But not all learning comes from doing.  We learn through conversation, listening, asking questions, watching others, etc.

Sometimes, we need to jump start our motivation to actually try to "do the doing."  Sometimes, a well made and engaging video about a topic that, otherwise, would have never been presented to your class is the spark that ignites a passion in a student who then is motivated to go out and act on his curiosity.  If the acting on curiosity is part of the teacher's lessons and incorporated in the curriculum, then there is a great opportunity for learning.

If the spark leads to a student's independent investigations (those done for the sake of understanding, not because it is required in class), then maybe the TED-Ed (or other similar type) video taught the student the most valuable lesson of all - find a passion, act on it, and live each day to learn a little more.  

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