Myths of Learning & Teaching – 6

Lectures, explanations, and the illusion of learning

What happens in the following real-life class scenario?

An instructor explains some class material. She assigns then some readings to her students. Then, she will administer a test (a quiz) to the students. Through the test she will able to evaluate the students’ learning, and express it on a scale which goes from A (Excellent proficiency) to F (No proficiency); or from zero to ten. Whatever.

An “objective” evaluator should then be able, at the end, to assess the students’ learning through some standard measurement. What is the evaluator going to find? What have the students learned, supposing they correctly answered their quiz questions? To rephrase: What is the learning outcome of this process, when standard evaluation says they got A’s? This question really goes beyond simply asking if there is a true and hard correlation between grade and effective learning.

I believe strongly that effective learning as measured after the quiz will be almost nil, if one followed the aforementioned method. In fact, most of learning’s features will be missing:

Are students able to apply some of the acquired knowledge? Or, has that information conveyed by the teacher stayed that way, only information?

Have students internalized the materials?

Or, are we only measuring the short range, short-lived information being acquired by students by listening to a lecture?

I’d say: Lectures provide the illusion of learning. Watch out!

The point is: we should change our perception of what a good class is. Probably, a good class is no class at all! At least, our classes in which students get exposed to a series of facts, explanations etc. which then will be checked in an exam, and which will be forgotten soon enough after, should be banned or limited.

In the end, all learning outcome should pass the following test: Is that information being transformed into knowledge by the student? Has that knowledge some implications of relevancy to the students’ life, civic sense, profession, or culture?

Effectively, what do I remember from High School Biology? Very little, but very important stuff: for instance, Darwin’s Natural Evolution. Did that course teach me some meta skills which go beyond the relevancy of the subject? In that case, little. Point is: was it worthwhile or was it just filling a curricular hole?

About Antonio Vantaggiato

Professor, web2.0 enthusiast, and didactic chef.
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