A flop by any other name

Students don’t learn without being taught, concludes an article in Educational Psychologist linked by Ken DeRosa at D-Ed Reckoning.

Controlled experiments almost uniformly indicate that when dealing with novel information, learners should be explicitly shown what to do and how to do it.

. . . Mayer (2004) recently reviewed evidence from studies conducted from 1950 to the late 1980s comparing pure discovery learning, defined as unguided, problem-based instruction, with guided forms of instruction. He suggested that in each decade since the mid-1950s, when empirical studies provided solid evidence that the then popular unguided approach did notwork, a similar approach popped up under a different name with the cycle then repeating itself.

Discovery learning “gave way to experiential learning, which gave way to problem based and inquiry learning, which now gives way to constructivist instructional techniques.”

Ken promises more on this to come.

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Comments

  1. Indigo Warrior says:

    Lets not bash experiential learning too much. Have the empirical studies been controlled for personality type, intelligence, and “inspiredness?” I don’t think so. I am leery of the “this works for everyone” school of education, whether constructivist, instructivist, or mixed. It may well be true that experiential learning is useless for 95% of the public – but what of the other 5%?

    A better idea is to track everyone at an individual level, and offer something that works best, at an individual level.

  2. And I’m leery of all the “schools of thought” which seems much more a smokescreen for the foundationlessness of whatever exciting, cutting-edge ideas the school of thought purports to be advancing.

    Outside the public education system “experiential” learning is referred too as “the school of hard knocks” and a tough school it is. So tough that most people, having had one brush with the methodologies used, prefer never to repeat the educational experience.

    Another major shortcoming of experiential learning is that it’s inefficient. It takes a lot longer to replicate the Michealson-Morley experiment then it does to read about it and with the balance of the time you can cover some of the science that sprang from their experiment.

    Indigo Warrior wrote:

    A better idea is to track everyone at an individual level, and offer something that works best, at an individual level.

    This is the public education system we’re talking about, right? It doesn’t do “individual” very well. Certainly not in its present form.

  3. Efficient education is about finding how students learn similarly and using those similarities to craft education that works with the most students, while still compensating for the fact that kids learn at different rates.

    I’m still waiting to see even one legitimate study in which inquiry learning, discovery learning, experential learning works better than more direct forms of teaching for any subgroup of nove and intermediate learners that you have at the K-12 level. Contrast this to the five columns of studies referred to in the Minimal Guidance article that shows that it is far less effective.

  4. Wayne Martin says:

    > This is the public education system we’re
    > talking about, right? It doesn’t do
    > “individual” very well. Certainly not in
    > its present form.

    California (and other states) are trying to put together a longitudinal tracking system that will attempt to do “individual” better, at least in providing past performance data that should be helpful:

    CA Longitudinal Tracking System:
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sp/cl/index.asp

    It will be up to the teachers and Administrators to change their ways and use this data to help the kids.

  5. It always has been up to the teachers and administrators Wayne. The occasional shooting star in the otherwise dull firmament of public education proves that more, much more, could be done but isn’t, in general, being done. The reason it isn’t being done has little to do with the dearth of data; there’s actually a pretty fair amount of data on how to best teach, but with the will, and reason, to use that data.

    Since there’s no obvious differences between teachers and the balance of the human race I’ve formed the conclusion that it isn’t a lack of will but a lack of a reason to apply that will that accounts for the ills of public education. Unfortunately, that lack of a reason to apply research is foundational. It’s part of what the public education system is and when the system is changes enough to reward practitioners for bettering their performance, it won’t be the public education system any more.

    No amount of research will change the nature of public education and as long as that nature remains unchanged good research will sit on the shelf, unviewed and unused.

  6. The problem is that these educational trends are based on no evidence whatsoever. Multiple intelligences (or learning styles), for example, is based on absolutely nothing. It’s an idea pulled out of somebody’s head that has been given the weight of authority merely because it’s trendy.

    The same is true of “discovery learning.” There is no research of any kind to support it, just a lot of pop cogsci and folderol.

  7. Unfortunately the presence of fad teaching methods is due to the time-honored concept of the teacher’s perogative. This allows the spread of “cool” teaching methods based upon nothing more than anecdotal or limited observational evidence.
    Direct Instruction was based upon detailed analysis of numerous teachers across the nation. It was not developed from cognitive theory, but distilled from the common practices of successful teachers.

  8. Discovery learning is also known as research. Learning to do research is a big part of what getting a Ph.D. is about, and most of the people that get that degree never do any more research, because it’s really hard and frustrating. It’s also impossible to learn to do research unless you already know a lot more than any kid in elementary school, and it’s a terrible way to learn something new. (That’s the reason that they have research journals and conferences — so you can find out what’s known instead of reinventing it.)

    The idea that kids are supposed to reinvent mathematics and science, especially when directed by people whose knowledge of these disciplines is so shallow that they can’t really explain basic things like what a force is, or why it doesn’t make sense to divide by 0, is so ludicrous that it’s hard to respond coherently.

    They’d have a better chance of teaching kids to fly by flapping their arms.

  9. Supersub wrote:

    Unfortunately the presence of fad teaching methods is due to the time-honored concept of the teacher’s perogative.

    There are some prerogatives being exercised but they aren’t the teacher’s.

    Policy matters are decided, properly, farther up the chain of command. Teachers are executors of the policy. If teachers are to have more input into policy matters then the administrative pyramid has to be flattened out.

  10. Walter E. Wallis says:

    So they start at zero and graduate knowing quantum theory all on their own?

  11. Do cars roll off the assembly line all nice and assembled on their own?

    Teachers, like assemly line workers, are the interface between children and knowledge. But what they teach what they are permitted to teach should be and is determined by someone higher up in the food chain.

  12. While content is established by district or state standards, it seems to me in that most cases pedagogy is still largely controlled by individual teachers. Administrations do exert influence through hiring practices and the proscribed workshops, and there are some theme schools that require certain methods, yet the large portion of public schools still follow the tradition of a classroom being the teacher’s domain.
    New teachers are exposed to these “progressive” styles each day simply because some educational “authority” (i.e. someone making money giving workshops and materials on the new style) endorses it and teacher colleges are happy to teach due to the attitude of “different strokes for different folks.”
    Unfortunately since the barbarians are not being held back at the colleges’ gates, the state and federal governments must continue to step in to schools and restrict the administrations’ and teachers’ choices. Luckinly for those against this, teachers’ unions are willing to shoot themselves in the foot by spending large sums of money to defeat this effort, spiting themselves in the name of educational freedom.

  13. Indigo Warrior says:

    Allen:
    Another major shortcoming of experiential learning is that it’s inefficient. It takes a lot longer to replicate the Michealson-Morley experiment then it does to read about it and with the balance of the time you can cover some of the science that sprang from their experiment.

    Experiential/discovery learning does not mean performing every experiment on your own! There are many that are severely impractical in terms of time, money, and safety. Research is part of learning too; as the great Don Lancaster put it, an hour in the library is worth a month in the lab.