Learning for Assessment vs for Life

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

While I was doing my RT2 assignments, I found an interesting education paper about holistic view of learning ((Willis D, 1993. Learning and Assessment: Exposing the Inconsistencies of Theory and Practice)). In this paper, 6 concepts of learning were explained:

  1. Learning to increase one’s knowledge.
  2. Learning as memorising and reproducing.
  3. Learning as applying.
  4. Learning as understanding.
  5. Learning as an interpretive process aimed at understanding reality.
  6. Learning as changing a person.

A relationship exists between a learner’s concept of learning and the learning approach they are likely to use. Students who perceive learning as #1 or #2 will tend to adopt a surface approach (where the motive of learning is to meet the requirements minimally, usually for a short-term target) and students who perceive learning as #3, #4, #5 will tend to do deep approach (where the motive of learning is intrinsic interest to discover meaning and acquiring competence).

Looking back through my education history – spending about 14 years in Indonesian education system and about 4 years Australian until now – most of the learning approach I have used is surface approach.

Indonesian education system was terrible. I actually did not remember learning something if not for the sake of tests and exams. Maybe it is the fact that I was in K-12 level (maybe university level in Indo is a lot better?), I don’t know. All I know was that if I wanted to be somewhat recognised as the top-students, I would have to be an all rounder, getting high marks in ridiculously 13 subjects ((Religion, Civics, Mathematics, Indonesian, English, Sociology, Economy, Geography, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer, Physical Education)). I remember my gleaming pride after a full two nighters memorising two Biology books for the final exam, in total the books were almost 3 cm and I could reproduce every single diagram in them. Can I draw one of the diagram now? No way.

Even on the assignment that I am doing in this current session, I cannot stress how reliant I am to a marking guideline. I need to make sure that what I am producing is inline to what the marker wants to see. The marks have spoken themselves to say how successful I am in doing so, but I wonder what is it that I am learning. Being in uni for about 3 years, doing approximately 8 subjects a year, I can count with my fingers how many subjects support deep learning approach. These subjects are excellent and useful, the knowledge I gain is for my life, but unfortunately they are so hard to find. There are not many of great lecturers to conduct subjects like those ((To name almost everyone at the time I was at university: Richard Buckland from Computer Science and Engineering, Bruce Gordon from Business Law and Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic from Information System.)).

To be called an effective teacher, one will have to be able to measure the knowledge gained by the students objectively. This is by default inconsistent with concept #6: learning as changing a person. It takes too much time and it is extremely complicated to measure changes in students’ life individually and then compare each of them to each other. Those changes may not be able to be measured then, and one can’t even put any time frame of when it can be measured because each student is different. Great teachers with students’ achieving low marks in knowledge reproducing activities may be seen as incompetent teachers where as in fact they have changed the students’ view in life through their teaching. Sad eh?

I will be interested to hear what you think about your own concepts of learning and also your view of the education systems you have gone through. Have you learned useful knowledge for your life through the system or was it all just about exams?

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