What Subjects Should Teachers Cover That They Often Don’t?

Modern-day students must learn how to learn.

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This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Peter Baskerville, vocational teacher:

Teach people how to learn. As the 20th-century U.S. historian, journalist, novelist, and educator Henry Adams explained: “They know enough who know how to learn.”

Technology today is not just causing change but accelerating it. Knowledge is growing at an exponential rate, rather than at a linear rate that had been the norm up until the 1960s. Today, knowledge is estimated to be doubling every 13 months, as shown by this chart on medical knowledge growth published on 2020 Vision: Curriculum Renewal Project.

Furthermore, while our grandfathers had careers for life and our parents had a few different jobs within their careers, the kids of today face a society where they are likely to have four to five changes of careers—some of which don’t even currently exist.

This fast-changing environment means that people don’t just need to learn new subject matter. They need to also unlearn “outdated truths.” As the American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler observed: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Learning specific subject matter is now far less valuable than the competency of knowing how to learn. Learning how to learn will allow today’s students to acquire new knowledge and skills easily in this fast-changing environment and will make learning a lifelong and continuous adventure.

The problem for the current Industrial Age cohort-based learning approach is that learning how to learn is different for each learner. Teachers need to work with learners to help them discover the most efficient and effective ways for them to learn. This may involve helping each student identify his or her learning style preference:

  • Visual: Students prefer to learn by looking at charts, diagrams, images, and graphics or by watching a demonstration.
  • Auditory: Students prefer to learn by listening to explanations and reciting information aloud or using music and rhymes.
  • Kinesthetic: Students prefer to learn by doing and touching or from simulating real-life situations.
  • Read/write: Students prefer to learn from information displayed as words, emphasizing text-based input and output like a manual, report, dictionary, thesaurus, PowerPoint, essay, and assignments.
  • Logical/mathematical: Students prefer to learn from a logical, reasoned approach that involves systems and sequences.
  • Social: Students prefer to learn as part of a group, where individual explanations help members of the group learn.
  • Solitary: Students prefer to learn alone in a self-study mode.

Now while most learners use a combination of styles to learn, they should know which styles they prefer and be able to rank them accordingly. Teachers may also need to help each student understand what type of learner he or she is as he or she first engages with the learning:

  • Activist: Prefers doing and experiencing (learns by direct interaction with the material) mostly in groups.
  • Reflector: Prefers to observe and reflect (learns by thinking about the material) mostly as individuals or very small groups.
  • Theorist: Prefers to first understand underlying concepts and relationships prior to application.
  • Pragmatist: Prefers to try things out, to have a go at seeing what works, using detailed orientation with sensing applied to real-life applications.
  • Global: Prefers a holistic, big picture approach to learning before diving into the details.
  • Sequential: Prefers linear learning that follows logical incremental steps.

Once students are armed with knowledge about their learning styles and types, teachers should then help individual learners develop the tools and processes that best help them learn how to learn.

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