Tuesday, June 27, 2006

One size fits some: minimally guided learning

I came across a publication today (probably via Tony Karrer), called Why Minimally Guided Instruction Does Not Work. I am still busy working through it (it's pretty heavy going), but the title brought me screeching to a halt. Wow! Does not work. For anyone? Ever? At all? Exhaustive tests have been done, I presume? I would prefer it to be called "Why Minimally Guided Instruction Does Not Work for Everyone".

I have worked in an open learning environment before, and I have seen it work to varying degrees. Many learners experienced feelings of abandonment and built up a head of resentment about having to "do all the work". I heard things like "If I knew how to do this, I wouldn't have to be here, would I, so why doesn't anyone teach me?"

Those who stuck with it were often able to adapt to the approach and managed to take ownership of their learning to the necessary extent. A few rocketed off at speeds they would never have achieved in an instructed environment.

I would be interested to see a personality profile of the sort of person for whom it does work. I formed my own views during my time at the centre, but nothing genuinely empirical or quantifiable (I'm not qualified to profile people anyway!).

I will say most categorically, though, that, if age could in any way be said to be a defining factor, the older learners adapted better - and I mean older. Of course, some of them really struggled, having not undertaken any formal education since behaviourism was the order of the day. But my two top performers were a 69 year old man and a 74 year old woman. Many of the younger learners lacked the sort of perseverance that seems to come with a wealth of experience of what life has to offer. Very few under 20's stayed the course. This relates to Vicki's post yesterday (If you want me to try, tell me why) and a recent post of my own about the painful process of learning. It's not just the current generation who is guilty of wanting instant gratification - it's been the way of things since generations were invented. Endurance, perseverance, these are part of the affective domain and, in my experience, tend to come with maturity.

I used to work as a second on the Comrades' Marathon, and the balance of the field was definitely towards the greyer (or balder) head. These were people who were prepared to put in the hours of slog, because they knew the reward would be worth it. I used to be a sprinter: 400m and 4X100m. Making the transition to 5km events was tough - it required far more fitness, far more cardio-vascular work, hill work, endurance, grind. But once I had achieved it, I knew that I was fitter than I had been in my sprinting prime. Not faster. Fitter. I ran a 5km fun run at 16 - it took me 54 mins and I walked most of the way. The next one I ran was at the age of 40 - it took me 30mins and I ran at a steady pace from start to (almost) finish (saving a little show-off sprint for the end).

Minimally guided instruction doesn't suit everyone. The attrition rate in the centre was high. But it suits some and can be learned by others in absence of their own ideal. I think the same can probably be said of most learning and teaching methodologies.

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