Learning Conversations: What Questions Are You Asking?

In his recent post, 21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning, George Couros provides a compelling argument about differentiating between the extrinsic “design” of learning spaces/programs and the actual ‘nuts and bolts’ work of defining what learning is and how we ensure that it happens.

Dressing up a room in a school with a new Learning Commons or introducing a cutting edge STEM image 1Program does not mean any new learning or delivery model around instruction is taking place. You see, unless you’re Kenneth Clark hanging the National Gallery, it is very easy to dress up a room and label it as educational innovation. The real work, the elbows deep in learning stuff, is in leading the potentially difficult conversations around what learning should look like.

Why difficult? Because the conversation will often ask members of the group to reflect on their own practices and in so doing participate within a process that could re-socialize some deeply rooted behaviours – behaviours that may not see new ways of doing as being interconnected with improved learning (for both students and educators).

How do we start to address what our vision of learning actually is? What kind of questions do we ask? What kind of conversations are we talking about?

Well, as an attempt to respond to my own rhetorical questions, here’s a series of hows that could serve as conversational starting point(s):

How do we help move our students from solely finding information to discovering            knowledge?

How do we help students acquire transferable skills that will have resonance in an age of ever changing and increasingly sophisticated content/product?

How can we move from focusing on the mastery of a body of information and instead ask “How can I help create a real learner?” And what does ‘real’ really mean?

How do we allow teachers to bring their own passions into their classrooms, allowing them to set out on a course of inquiry that invites students along within the adult discourse? (I’m willing to bet that any curriculum coverage could be enfolded within these passions).

How do we personalize learning, providing our students with enriching experiences and enabling them to discover their own admirable purposes?

How do we move all stakeholders from doing school to engaging with it?

How do we ensure that all of our learning is work that’s worth doing?

image courtesy of angelamaiers.com

image courtesy of angelamaiers.com

Figuring out what learning should look like and crafting the questions to start that journey.

In the end, maybe we view it as a backward mapped conversation that doesn’t start with a space or program or innovation. Perhaps it starts with this:

What degree of intellectual/social/emotional agility do we want to help our students develop over the 18 years that they are in our care? And now, how do we get there?

What are the questions you ask to start your learning conversations? I’d love to hear them.


  1. Nothing like a set of tricky questions to get a good conversation going. At a recent Summit on MOOCs in the NZ context (http://goo.gl/tVR5d0), small groups were asked to address the question: “what will institutions of higher education look like in the future?” (we could simplify that by substituting “education” for “higher education” or, simply, “learning”. The event was largely focused on how technological change might affect existing institutions and organisational structures. It would have been better if the event focussed on the kind of fundamental questions you have proposed here.

    The story of future of education, or of personal, human-centred learning, has not been written. It is not there for us to predict or uncover or predict. But it is up to us, all of us, collectively, to invent it. What story would we like to tell? What does it mean to be an effective, self-actualised learner, citizen and netizen in the world as it is and as we might shape it?

    • Thanks for the comments, Mark.
      I like the point you raise about “inventing” the story. I think that in focusing on “human-centred learning” we allow for the ambiguous reality that the story will never be finished but will be constantly evolving. Our roles as educators is to help our students “own” their stories and, hopefully, help them grow within their own narratives.

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