Frank Smith writes in his book “The Book of Learning and Forgetting” that we learn from those around us and those with whom we identify ourselves with. Simply put, you learn from the company you keep. This type of learning is natural and long-term. We learn continuously and without noticeable effort.
Any of us who have observed students learning a new video game or how to upload music to their iPod understand that today’s students are natural learners – and it all seems so effortless. They are interested, motivated, and they know who are the experts – their friends. To watch one teenager teach another how to do something is amazing – they seem to be able to explain it in a way that others understand and without much fuss.
I think that we educators can learn a lot from watching students learn in this “classic view” of learning. Our main job is to create an environment where this type of learning is encouraged and expressed – not repressed. Student-centered learning means that the focus is on the learner – not the teacher and how the material is presented. The emphasis is on how the student is learning, the choices they have for expressing their learning, and how the teacher comes to understand that the student is learning.
Technology has long been an integral component of a learner-centered environment. It’s not the “tool” of the computer that makes it work – it the communication and the authenticity of the work that makes it real. Students who use Web 2.0 tools like social networking sites, IM and video/podcasts can share their original thoughts and ideas with the world and gather real feedback and responses from interested individuals. The conversations that get started are interesting and the students are eager and motivated to respond back – it seems effortless – Smith would call it learning.
When our students look forward to communicating with their peers about what they are learning and are given opportunities to construct meaningful knowledge (that has nothing to do with answers on a standardized test) – we can be assured that this type of learning will be long-term because the learner has identified himself/herself as a learner.