Output Education

Education Blog

Designing Learning That Matters

Designing Learning That Matters

3 April, 2016

Deep learning often happens when learners encounter experiences that challenge them to figure something out, explore new information, and create a product.

According to Jal Mehta:

Learning is basically an act of vulnerability. It is recognizing that what one knows is not enough, and that new information and new thinking about that information is needed.

The sad truth is that, for most of us, many of our experiences of deep learning occurred outside of school. The good news is that it is possible to bring the characteristics of deep learning to classrooms and school learning. Designing curriculum is the point when teachers can be innovative in order to make memorable and profound chances for their students. What does it take to design deep learning experiences that matter to students?

  1. Use Inquiry

Chances are that your example of deep learning includes trying to figure something out. When learning is framed with problems and essential questions, there are clear reasons to pursue information. True inquiry allows for debate and motivates students to develop ideas that they can support with evidence. For example, in unit on Revolutions, begin with the question, “What is a revolution?” Tell students that the dictionary won’t be much help (although they are welcome to use it), but that they must come up with a definition which they can support. After the class has developed and discussed ideas, revisit these ideas regularly while different historic and contemporary examples of revolutions (or non-revolutions, depending on their definitions).

  1. Look for Inspiration

Instead of beginning the unit-planning process by thinking of standards or by focusing solely on content, try to look for examples of inspirational work in the world. Some examples:

  • A particularly poignant radio piece and issues faced by transgender youth can start podcasts, so as a culminating project in a unit that included a novel with a theme of racial boundaries, challenge students to create a podcast about crossing boundaries.
  • A newspaper article that creatively integrated text and media can make students create products that integrated text and media.
  • A crisis around education funding in a city can inspire a digital story project that invited students to share their own ideas about Education and Democracy.

Standards matter, of course, but they are easily integrated into a larger, more creative vision for learning.

  1. Remember to Ask “Why?”

Educators should always have an answer for that whiny kid off to the side who wants to know, “Why are we learning this?” Try to answer this question early on, before anyone has had a chance to ask it. At its best, school learning can matter to students on many levels. It might connect to recent events, be related to students’ lives, or investigate an issue that is misunderstood by many. Whatever the reason for a unit, make sure that it’s clear to you and clear to students.

  1. Let Them Loose!

Chances are that the example of deeper learning you recalled when you started reading this post was not something you were forced to do. Choice and personal expression are powerful ways of letting students to find themselves in their own learning. Project-based learning can transform old visions of school and make learning about more than retaining information. There is nothing inherently engaging, creative, or fun about school. The truth is, most school experiences are remarkably unmemorable. Yet school learning can be transformative, and school can help students discover themselves and their abilities. Educators’ work is to design experiences that enable this to happen.