Learning About The Slow Education Movement

Aristotle wrote, “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” It is “a slow ripening fruit.” While he was writing about friendship with another person, what if we thought about learning as friendship with a question, topic, or challenge?  We cultivate a connection with it was we study, explore, analyze, create, seek to understand and apply. We take or time with it, invest time and seek to truly understand.  Do we treat learning as a “slow ripening fruit” or do we rush through tasks, hurry to complete the next assignment, or seek optimal efficiency as we strive to make sure that each student performs well on some set of standards?

Imagine a middle school that is organized into centers, not too different from what we see in many early childhood classrooms.  At each center, there is a written challenge provided by the teacher(s).  Student are able to choose which challenges to complete each day and how much time to devote to each of them. However, there are certain rules to govern how often one can return to a given station for a new challenge.  The learners document their progress and they are largely self-directed, with teachers facilitating as needed. This short description represents a relatively new school model know as Slow Education.  It takes on a different style depending upon the school or grade level, but the central notion is that learners spend significant time working through challenges and projects.  What appears to be similar across the few slow learning schools that I have learned about so far is that learning is not focused upon students meeting short-term standards and targets.  It is slow and deep learning where learners cultivate a myriad of skills and character traits over an extended period of time. Process matters.

Most of the examples that I’ve learned about so far are taking place in the UK, places like St. Silas Primary School (the video available through that link is worth the few minutes) or Matthew Moss High School. This is a seemingly new phrase to me and most of what I am just shared comes from this Slow Education blog and the accompanying Facebook page. At the same time, this does not seem to be an entirely new idea. In many ways, it has parallels with self-directed learning, project-based learning, challenge-based learning, and certain aspects (although not all) of free and democratic schools, at least in the sense that there is ample room for student self-direction. As I understand it, this approach places heavy emphasis upon the cultivation of a certain type of ethos in the school or learning environment.  It is a place where learning is active but not rushed, where there is time and interest in who one is becoming and not just what one does or does not know, and where high value is placed upon the quality of interactions between the teacher and learners.

I definitely want to add “slow education school” to my list of schools to visit.






Slow Education

10 Surveys for Self-discovery, Starting Discussions, or Getting to Know Learners

I realize that many personality inventories and similar surveys have their limitations. For one thing, most of them depend upon self-reporting, so dishonesty or simply a lack of awareness about oneself can get in the way.  Even if the responses are honest and accurate, the tool itself has limitations. A single inventory doesn’t offer a complete picture of a person, and with many inventories, what it tells you may well change over time.  Nonetheless, they can still serve as fun and interesting ways to learn about yourself and others.  They also work as useful discussion starters among friends, co-learners, and colleagues; giving one another a chance to learn how to work well together, how to best support one another, and how to maximize one another’s strengths.  Toward that end, here are ten such surveys or inventories to consider.  Some are built upon and rooted in research and a particular theory. Others are less formal, but the categories can give new ways of looking at oneself and others.

1. The Bartle Test of Game Player Psychology – Are you a killer, achiever, explorer, or collaborator?  According to the designers of this tool, each game player has a dominant motivation that is tied to one of these four categories. The description of each will help you understand it better, but I happen to find this one helpful as I think about designing learning environments, considering how I might include elements that meet the needs and interests of these different types of gamers.

2. The Five Love Languages – This is the name of a book by Gary Chapman, and it is based upon the idea that we each understand love in different ways.  For some, they feel loved when people do acts of service for them? For others, they desire words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts or quality time together.  Of course, we often try to show others that we love them using our dominant love language rather than the other person’s, which can cause a disconnect.  What happens if your dominant love language is acts of service but your son’s is quality time?  How do you make sure that each person experiences love in their own language?  You get the idea.  While this is about love and I first learned about it to think about the relationship between spouses, I don’t see why it can’t offer insights in how to care for friends, colleagues and others as well.

3. Clifton Strengthsfinder – I’m not sure if there is a free version of this one. I think you need to buy the book and then you get access to the online inventory.  This one is based upon the idea that each person has certain strengths and that people are most effective (and often happier) when they focus upon using and building upon their strengths and not always trying to remedy limitations or weaknesses.  The accompanying book is rich with information about what you can do with your strengths and how you can work with people who have different strengths.

4. The Authentic Happiness Questionnaires – This site has over a dozen questionnaires. My understanding is that they are all connected to positive psychology and the idea that a sense of well-being comes from experiencing positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment (PERMA).  The questionnaires focus on all sorts of things: depression, optimism, gratitude, grit, etc.

5. Narcissistic Personality Quiz – Many people argue that narcissism is growing as a result of the increasing ability to get everything on our terms in the digital world.  I’m not sure about whether it is on the rise, but this informal quiz might make for a good discussion starter about the subject.

6. The VARK Questionnaire – This is a popular learning style inventory that can serve as a fun and interesting ice-breaker for learners and a tool for getting to know one’s learners.  Yes, I realize that the learning style concept has been challenged and is in question in many ways, especially when it comes to whether designing environments based upon learning styles actually does anything to improve learning.  And yet, learning and thinking about how we learn does help cultivate self-reflection and self-awareness, both of which can be helpful for learners as they try to learn how to learn.  This can also be a way to cultivate shared ownership among a group of people and it can help one to think about building multi-sensory learning experiences.

7. Study Skills Inventory – Do your current strategies help you to be successful in formal learning environments?  This short survey seeks to provide some insight into that question, and it might serve as a good discussion starter about student success and what habits successful students cultivate.

8. What is Your Educational Philosophy? Are you an essentialist, perennialist, progressivist, social reconstructivist, existentialist, or some sort of combination? This survey from McGraw Hill will help you figure that out.  Of course, you might need to do a little reading to understand the meaning of those terms.  This is a great discussion starter for educators and those interested in conversations about education reform. Learning a bit more about where each other comes from can provide valuable insights on how to proceed in those conversations.

9. Digital Literacy Survey – This one takes 5-10 minutes to complete, but it provides some helpful feedback on your digital literacy.  This works as a useful self-assessment to guide ongoing personal and professional development, but it could also be a great discussion starter or a tool to help you get to know the strengths and limitations of a group of co-learners.

10. Information Literacy Survey – This one comes from DeSales University and it is targeted for undergraduate college students, assessing their ability to leverage databases and other resources for research. It provides some good feedback to the rest of us as well.

There are many other similar surveys, questionnaires, quizzes and self-assessments that are freely available on the web.  Of course, you can also create your own.  Whatever the case, I offer this list as a starting point for exploring how such tools might add a little interest and self-reflection to a learning community.

10 Books That Explore the Role of the Humanities in the Digital Age

In the contemporary emphasis upon data, STEM education and technological innovation, it can be easy to question the value of the humanities. As you will find in my blog, I am no Luddite, and yet I love spending time with my Luddite friends (by that I mostly mean the authors of many books that I read).  At the same time, it would be a false characterization to assume that a modern advocate of the humanities or the liberal arts is necessarily some sort of neo-luddite.  There are many thoughtful critics of our age as well as others who seem to make sense of life in the digital age through the humanities. To ignore these critiques is to miss out on an important and balanced education for our age. To ignore the voice of the humanities is to risk not learning about a valuable way of thinking about and looking at life in an increasingly technological world.  Toward that end, here are ten books to offer interesting challenges, critiques, and insights about the value of the humanities today.

  1. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Age of Truthiness and Twitter by Howard Gardner
  2. Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities by Martha Nussbaum
  3. Multilitearcies for a Digital Age by Stuart Selbar – This text provides a humanities approach to technology literacy.
  4. Writing: A Manual for the Digital Age by Blakesley & Hoogeveen
  5. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving and Presenting the Past on the Web by Daniel Cohen
  6. Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers – This provides a fresh critique of some of the downfalls of the digital age and offers a few ideas for avoiding them.
  7. Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts by Bartscherer & Coover
  8. Understanding Digital Humanities by David Berry
  9. The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship by Bodenhamer, Corrigan & Harris
  10. Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future by Neil Postman

Ongoing Unbundling of Higher Education & The MOOC University

Several months ago, I was at the Education Innovation Summit, having a post-dinner conversation with a venture capitalist.  After learning about what I do for a living, he asked me what I saw as the most significant trends in higher education. I explained that I see promise in the open learning movements, but that one of the most disruptive shifts that I expect to see in the next 4-8 years is the unbundling of the traditional schooling experience, especially in higher education. “Higher education is here to stay,” I explained, “but the traditional residential University experience will be much less common and more students will opt for a personalized path.”

That traditional experience will continue to be available to those who have the interest and resources for it, but this unbundling is well underway.

  • Organizations are creating gap year experiences that provide students with the opportunity to earn credit through their experiences and then transfer them to a school of choice.
  • Students are mixing and matching courses from multiple schools to accommodate their budget and preferences (e.g. taking community college courses online to transfer them back to the University where the plan to complete a BA/BS).
  • Others, as I note in a post on self-blending, are taking MOOCs to study for and get feedback on work in their traditional University courses.
  • In terms of the community life during college, there is a long tradition of students seeking off-campus housing and recreating their own sub-communities around common interests, shared goals, or just the desire to connect with others on their own terms.

These are only a few of the many ways that people choose to unbundle the one-price package of the traditional residential undergraduate experience. I expect to see much unbundling in the future, especially the emergence of vibrant and inspiring communities of learners where there may be no actual course offerings for credit.  Instead, there might be learning coaches, peer-coordinated events, ample opportunity for a community experience. The residents/members will pursue their education through online courses, informal study in MOOCs, or low residency programs. Whenever I speak about this, I have to admit that this is not a neutral prediction of a disinterested scholar.   I am excited about this prospect and I hope to support and encourage the development of unbundling. I also do not see this as a necessary threat to higher education institutions, although I do think it is a wake-up call and an invitation to take part in this new transformation, even building partnerships and shared events with these emerging communities.

Until last week, I did not realize that a wonderful example of such a community is already in place. During the recent online Homeschool Conference (which was really more of an alternative education event), I learned about the the Black Mountain Self Organized Learning Environment for Higher Education. Informed by the work of Sugata Mitra on SOLEs (think TED Talks and The Hole in the Wall Experiment), this community is a prime example of thoughtful unbundling (or even unschooling) in higher education. At this point, I know little more than what I read on their site, but from what I can tell, they have a workable funding model, an amazing facility, a list of fascinating projects, an impressive network, and a team of passionate and talented people. Consider for example, this MOOC Campus article.

I am excited to see how this develops,  as it has great promise to empower many people and to inspire similar initiatives around the world. As this initiative grows, expect to see dozens of similar (but likely smaller) efforts to appear across the United States in the next three to five years. My guess is that we will first see them in University towns as well as a few rural and remote locations with low-cost housing but a solid infrastructure for staying connected online.

Of course, given my longstanding research on educational innovation and edupreneurship, I can’t wait to explore the possibility of heading down to North Carolina for a visit!