Learning to Learn


Associate Professor Sandra Milligan at the University of Melbourne analysed the data from over 100,000 learners on the University’s various MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses), every click, tap, swipe they made, every document they consulted, and every word they wrote in chat forums and exercises.

As a result of this research they found a remarkably consistent pattern of what learning behaviours work and which don’t.

Overall the analysis suggests that learners with lower levels of learning expertise are likely to be passive in their behaviour.  That is, they receive input, limit their interaction to consuming content supplied by the tutor and are unengaged by their peers, taking responsibility only for themselves.  They seek guidance only from authorative figures about what to read or think and adhere to contexts and perspectives similar to their own.  They regard learning as the mastery of reasonably static, generalisable knowledge, easily transferred in books, or by classroom lectures.

Expert learners, by contrast, are likely to scan different sources of information, seeking out a range of potential sources of learning in the environment.  They regard valuable knowledge as somewhat volatile, context dependent, widely distributed, and including tacit understandings, as well as generalisable understandings.  They actively seek out the views of others and conduct dialogues with peers in which they collaborate, mentor, and even teach their other students.

Although I hadn’t given much thought to this over my thirty years of training adults I must say that my experience tends to support the research findings.  In our management programmes which are workshop conducted we have a post-workshop assignment in which about fifty percent of the participants go to a lot of trouble to research the questions and answer in some detail while the remainder answer the questions with the information that is available to them in the workshop session book.

The learning from this is that we need to be very conscious of the audience we are designing for and to produce material that will be suitable to their most likely learning style.

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