Are You Educated? Or Are You a Learner?

I’ve been really reflecting on the state of our educational system lately.  In part because of the big changes that have been happening in my district.  Changes that involve the fostering of 21st Century Skills, Problem-Based Learning, and the integration of technology.  It has led me down some really philosophical paths in my spare time and caused me to evaluate my personal teaching philosophy more than once.

Sometimes I think the phrase “educated” gets used interchangeably with the the word learner, when in fact, the words mean very different things.

To be educated implies that someone has undergone a formal education program.  They have sat through the classes, done the work (or not), and passed the final exam (or not). They have been taught at and they have taken in information.

Being educated seems to imply that there is nothing left to learn.  That since the person has participated in a formal educational program, they are done.  They get a stamped diploma and they can go out into the world and be successful. (Is it bad that I get a mental image of prep school jackets and golf polos?)

I would argue that being a learner is a much more fluid thing, a constantly evolving journey that continues indefinitely.

Being a learner is being engaged in the process of education; either formal or otherwise. People are learners because they have a need to know.  They need to know because they are interested in the topic, or they need to know to get a job done or a problem solved.  That does not mean that what they are learning has to be a favorite subject.  It just means they have a reason for learning it.

These situations call for ingenuity in finding information.  It may take the form of an instruction manual, a YouTube video, a phone call or video conference with a colleague or friend or family member.  Sometimes it might start with a Google search and end by falling down the rabbit hole into the world of blogs and help centers.  It might be researching scholarly articles or scientific journals, calling a tech call center or doing an image search.  Learners know how to find information not because they are smarter, but because they never give up.  They NEED to know.

I’ve heard the term “ungoogle-able questions” pop up a lot lately in education and I understand from where this stems.  However, I don’t agree that we should always be looking for “ungoogle-able” questions.  Most problems we face in daily life are google-able…and that is a great thing!  I also don’t think we should discourage students from using google (or calculators…but that is a story for another time) as a resource when solving problems.

What we need to be doing is finding a way to connect with students so that they have a need to know about whatever they are studying so that they are actively engaged in their education.  So that hopefully, we have transformed them into learners; not educated people.

We also must ditch the idea that all students are university bound.  Our world is changing yet we are still teaching students as if university is the finish line.  Many very successful people I know never attended college.  Some are entrepreneurs, some self-taught, some are builders or makers or tech gurus.  Universities cannot keep up with the rate at which new career fields are being invented.  We must teach students to be thinkers and doers, but most importantly; learners.

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