What Does it Mean to be a Learner in New Times? Essay


Much has changed within our education system over the last decade or so. Gone is the mentality of teaching the ‘masses’ or the ‘stereotypical student’, who, it was thought should learn in a particular way. This particular way was thought to be suited to all students. Whereby, teachers taught according to a standards-based curriculum as opposed to a learner- centred curriculum( Dembo 2004). This type of standards-based teaching reflects the ‘Old world’ type of education or the ‘traditional type’ of education where the role of the teacher was to impart knowledge and facts and to prepare students for the workforce. Due to the ever changing socioeconomic climate that we live in and the uncertainty that comes with it, “the world of the twenty-first century is characterised by the development of ‘knowledge economies’ wherein nations’ social prosperity and economic viability are premised upon skilled and knowledgeable citizens” (pg. 1,ACDE 2003) as a result of this changing and uncertain world that presents, the role of the teacher or the way in which they taught had to change, so as to accommodate this new learner.

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The way in which students learn has perhaps been taken for granted, assuming that all learners learn in the same way and therefore teaching them should be done in a structured manner. But research ( ) has shown that there are many different learning styles, characterised by how the learner learns. Theories on how one learns include; the behaviourist theory which views learning as a passive process. Behaviour is changed by positive reinforcement of each step in a series of carefully sequenced stages until ‘learning’ has occurred. A traditional teaching method of drill and practice or chalk and talk are indicative of the behaviourist theory of learning.

The cognitive theory of learning suggests that learning is an active process, involving thinking and mental processes. Learners that fall into this category express their thinking by way of ‘mind tools’, such as concept maps, graphic organisers.

The constructivist theory views learning as a conceptual development, building on the learner’s existing knowledge, ideas, cultural background. The principles of constructivism are;

* that knowledge is constructed from the experience of the learner

* learning is a personal interpretation of the world

* learning is an active process of making meaning from experience and takes place in contexts which are relevant to the learner

* reflection is an essential part of learning

* learning is a collaborative process

Bloom’s taxonomy organises or classifies thinking skills into levels from simple through to complex and the learners within a learning environment will have different levels. These levels are not necessarily chronologically related but describe the way in which the learner interprets the data. The thinking skills are organised into six levels – knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

Howard Gardner is a theorist who researched multiple intelligences as a way of understanding the different learning styles. Gardner suggests that we all have multiple intelligences but some are more obvious than others and it is those more obvious ones that shape or form our own individual style of learning and communicating. Gardner’s list of preferred learning styles is;

* Verbal linguistic

* Logical-mathematical

* Visual-spatial

* Body-kinaesthetic

* Musical-rhythmical

* Interpersonal

* Intrapersonal

* Naturalistic

As a result of the research into the teaching and learning styles, the pedagogy of teaching learners has been scrutinised or perhaps, is more widely understood. It now seems that one must reflect and look at the ways in which one can change so as to accommodate a learning environment that is both diverse and varied, a combination or reflection of the society in which we live in. where one can see a mix of culture, socioeconomic status and ethnicity within ones’ learning environment.

It seems that the pressure is on the teacher and the school’s curriculum to reconceptualise and reform current methods of teaching and content so as to engage and reach all those within our classrooms. Perhaps now sees the greatest pressures exerted upon our teachers, with the breakdown of families, dual income earning families , traditional dinners and family life a thing of the past, do we look to our educators or stakeholders to fill the void that our ‘traditional family life’ once fulfilled? Is the teacher held responsible by society for the behaviour of the youths of today? Was it not the parents role do discipline their child and for the child to show respect to their peers? So much has changed but is it all as bad as it might seem? Is the ‘old’ or the ‘traditional’ way the necessarily the best way?

These are all questions or reflections that I ask myself, especially at the commencement on my teacher education.

Critical Appraisal

So much change

The meaning and orientation of the work that teachers do and have done, over the years has been transformed enormously. Education and societies expectations of it have also been transformed. Transformed due to the rapid and profound social changes to the structure of our society (Esteve, 2000). The education system that has been in place over the last fifty to hundred years or so was based on a system that sought to educate the elite or the privileged child to one of educating the masses.

Whereby compulsory education saw the student population escalating, and teachers where faced with standards – based curricula of outcomes, efficiency and standardisation and educational design were governed by a factory model mentality (Unicorn, 2000). Moje etal (2000) supports this by suggesting that our education system has undergone vast changes over the last fifty years or so, seeing a diversity of students from different backgrounds, social class and socioeconomic status. This being attributed to the fact that people can move easily, whether it be physically, electronically, across states or countries resulting in a homogenous blend of students within our classrooms. This diversity impacting on teachers and the way in which lessons were taught. For, no longer would one way of teaching or imparting knowledge and facts be suited to such a diverse array of learners. The education system or education structure had to change and become more diverse itself, in the way in which it administered its curriculum.

Esteve (2000) suggest that there are some basic indicators that characterise educational change over the last twenty years or so, some of which “refer to the creation of new social concepts about education” which have gone to influence the situation of teachers within their learning environments and the social context in which teaching is carried out, the others relate to the direct changes which have occurred within the classroom. These indicators are – the new responsibilities demanded of teachers, the mass media offers an alternative to the possibilities of learning, different educational models in the multicultural society, the change of social worth of education, social judgement against the teacher and the general criticism of the educational system, society in general has reduced its expectations and support for teachers, the social status of the teacher in the materialistic society, the pressing need to improve curriculum contents, the mismatch between the needs of the schools and available resources, authority and discipline in the classroom and school, and the overload of the teacher.

With all the change has come a greater understanding of the learner and how the learner learns or each individual’s preferred learning style. Learning styles have been researched or have appeared in research literature as early as 1892 ( Fatt, 2000). The term learning style appeared in work by Thelen in 1954, in discovering the dynamics of groups at work. Research into learning styles has not just aimed at the educational sector but also the work force. Theorist David Kolb saw learning as a circular process, viewed as a set of experiences, reflections and observations, abstract concepts and generalisations and active experimentation (Honey and Mumford (1986) in Fatt (2000)). Honey and Mumford

(1986) suggested that a psychological framework consisting of four distinct learning styles was evident; an activist is one who is a dynamic learner, the reflector one who is an imaginative learner, an analytical learner is a theorist and a pragmatist is a learner who has a commonsense approach. Further to this McCarthy (1990) suggests that individual learning styles are linked to how one’s brain works, and that ‘style’ is a result of where one lingers along the way. The suggestion being, that we all feel, reflect, think and do but it is our processing preferences that distinguishes one individual’s learning style from that of another. Similar to, or perhaps expanding on Ornstein’s (1977) work on different forms of consciousness being attributed to the hemispheres of the brain. Some people use the left side of their brain more than the right and Vis versa. Where the left brain is accountable for the analytical and logical thinking or processing, as well as language and the right side of the brain is accountable for the artistic or abstract processing.

This type of ‘information processing’ has been researched by several people ( Milne 1989, Hudson 1966, de Bono 1971) who regard our thinking or processing skills as divergent or convergent, divergent being the lateral thinking process which is productive or imaginative, while convergent thinking is logical and analytical. All this research helps us get a better understanding of how one learns, it helps us understand how different people make sense of the world, the way in which an individual gathers and then channels information through the representational systems so as to make sense of it ( Fatt 2000 ). These systems or routes are the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic, and by being able to relate to an individuals preferred or unique mode of processing, communication with them will be improved. This then assists in the way in which knowledge and learning is learnt.

Probably one of the main reasons as to why there has been so much change and uncertainty within our education system is largely due to the globalisation era. It has brought the cultures of the world closer together, making the distant countries within our reach of travel. Not only has it made movement between the continents easier, but it has also brought the cultures of different countries to our attention. Old and new social issues demand an informed, concerned and empowered learner. This has brought with it many positives and negatives.

We have become more aware of our environment and our position within the global community. Due to this increased awareness, as a result of distant cultures and countries being within our reach and theirs, our knowledge and caring of the global environment will become a part of everyone’s lives. Highlighted by, the destruction that we are baring witness to now, caused by our ignorance and over-use of natural resource. Learners in the new times need to forge strong links with their local and national communities; they will need to have a social and ethical conscience with a strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others. Actively negating their own learning pathways as they progress through the stages of schooling (Shared Journal, pg13). The learner needs to be flexible and adaptable, problem solvers with a critical and reflective way of thinking.

We live in a media-saturated society, in a world of infotainment and spectacle. Students today live in a contemporary world, a blend of “old” and “new” information environments, they draw from diverse sources of information, means of communication and community engagements, suggesting that learning, information exchange and production occurs in a socially interactive community

(Luke 2003). “Multimodal readings and experiences of the world begin in infancy and constitute the social practices in everyday life” (Luke, p2 (2003)). Our schools have been left behind ( or had been left behind) for they are or were one of the few places were curriculum and timetables discouraged children from blending, mixing and matching knowledge drawn from diverse textual sources and communications media. It is because of this that imparting knowledge has had to reconceptualise. The content and the way in which it is administered has become the centre of pedagogy. Pedagogy, being the integration, in practice of particular curriculum content and design, classroom strategies and techniques, and evaluation, purpose and methods (McLaren p189). Critical pedagogy examines, even questions the very foundations of global capitalist social order. McLaren feels that critical educators strive for a better world for all, based on a non-exploitative relations and social justice. They are reflective in their approach to problems and issues, believing that teaching and learning should be a process of inquiry of critique. I feel that it makes one look outside of their comfort zone, to look beyond our traditional methods of teaching, so as to engage and arouse all those within our learning environment. When one understands the pedagogy of learning and how one learns, we have realised that we don’t all learn in a similar manner. Therefore a stimulus that arouses or engages one learner might not necessarily engage the learner next to them. The critical teacher needs to have an understanding of how the relationships between power, privilege and society can become distorted and manipulated.


In order to be a good educator or stakeholder as it is referred to (ACDE 2001) one needs to be aware of the different cultural, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds of the learners within our learning environment. Learning in the new times must be general in its focus ( ACDE) as opposed to specialised, concentrating on or striving to create a learner which is more aware of the world with which they live in. An all, rounder that will be able to navigate or cope with change and adversity that will present itself, problem solvers, creative and flexible people. The workforce expects a better rounded employee, someone who will be able to move with the times, someone who has the capacity to build on their knowledge, analyse changing conditions and be able to use a wide range of technologies. So it seems rather obvious that our education system had to change so as to reflect our changing society. It makes so much sense that our learning styles are different, just as we are all individuals, with our own opinions and ideas and by directing our teaching methods to accommodate this, we all stand to benefit.

I hadn’t given this much thought until I started this course and began to learn about critical pedagogies and learning themes. This heightened awareness of learning or how the learner learns is largely due to an increased awareness of the world with which we live in. This new learning is in a sense an adaptation to a changing environment, similar to the adaptations that animals undergo in response to a changing environment. Without this adaptation, what would have come of the education system and the teacher’s role in society? My only criticism of all this increased awareness is that it seems to question everything that we know, our very foundations are being queried. Is it the teacher or the eductors role to question so much? Are we all caught up in a world of being ‘too politically correct’? Whereby, being ‘politically correct’ are we analysing too much; thereby making things too confusing or complicated. Sometimes I think that we need to be more straight forward; say what we see, say what we think. Who says what is politically correct or not? Are those that do, correct in their analogy? I wonder sometimes if the troubles within our society are a result of all of this, in that are we making ‘too much out nothing’, creating bigger problems, when really we could approach it a much simpler way. Are we becoming less accountable for our actions or indiscretions, always finding something in our past or present lives that have ‘made us to it’, ‘passing the buck’ type of attitude. I have always been of the opinion that if ‘you do the crime, you do the time’, be accountable for your actions, whether they result in ‘success or failure’, it makes you stronger, a learning experience in itself.

But, I guess because everyone handles things in a different way, this type of approach is not always the best way and it is because of this, and the way in which we react, engage ourselves, reflect and interact with one another, that the way in which learners were taught had to change. What we need to do as educators is to try and find everyone’s niche; a little something which interests, inspires or brings out the best in each and everyone of us, so that learning can be an engaging process. A process whereby ‘the ball is in their court’, in that the learner is empowered to be ‘in charge’ of their own learning, directed by them, in the sense that their learning styles determines the way in which in the content is imparted.

A socially critical type of education perhaps? In the article ‘A critical view of Education’ it describes a socially critical education is one that is based on combined partnerships between students and educators in negotiating their education process. It continues by suggesting that education is aimed at engaging students in the critique and negotiation of the terms of reference of the society in which they find themselves. This is all well and good, but sometimes it seems that students just don’t care. It became evident during my professional practice that it is all well good to have all the theories and literature about ‘how to engage students’ but I found that some students just don’t want to get engaged in the subject matter. Upon reflection I feel that this is probably an example of the content matter not being suitable, in that the connections between the ‘content’ and their ‘real life’ experiences are not made. The fact that I was only there for a short period of time might also have some bearing on it, as the students didn’t know me and I in return did not know them. This therefore makes the connection harder to establish, I didn’t know their backgrounds, interests, concerns or problems which they might have been experiencing.

I can see how models such as ‘teaching principles Models’ outlined by

Professor K.Malone in her lectures on New learning, whereby they focus and direct the teaching of ‘old’ and ‘new’ fields of knowledge according to the demands and contexts of society today. These models describe the interactive requirements of new life worlds and future orientations, they are an essential ingredient for the survival in the worlds that the students of today will live and work in (Malone, 2004). A good blend of ‘old’ and ‘new’.


So where does this take us or what does it all mean? It seems, that to be a ‘good educator or teacher’ in today’s ever changing society, one needs to reflect upon our own learning styles or preferences and understand that not everyone is the same. They have different interests, life experiences, cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic backgrounds, so one needs to look at the pedagogical content and design of the curriculum so that it can be learnt by the learner in such a way that best suits their individual learning style. Assessing the learner in a variety of different ways so that it gives them the best opportunity to display their knowledge and convey or reflect their understandings of the knowledge that has been imparted onto them. Giving them the opportunity to show that they have made a connection. This is best done by productive pedagogies, which apply the principles of new learning. These principles relate to the learning environment being safe and supportive, the recognition of differences, the relevance or connectedness of the content matter and the intellectual quality (Lang (2004) for Lovat 2001).

By applying these principles it is envisaged that the learners of new times will be able to be ; assisted and self directed, flexible in their approach to learning, collaborative, good communicators, of open sensibility, intelligent in more than one way and have a broad knowledge ( Lovat 2001, pp.87-88). The learner in these new times needs to be able to utilise the tools of the twenty-first century, the educators in turn also need to utilise these tools as the vehicles to implementing their curriculum and to engaging their students. By doing this the educators are using the technologies which are aligned to the realities of the twenty-first century. Contrary to this, Kincheloe etal (2000) suggests that educators should understand that no one curricular program, regardless of how sound the pedagogical content is, will be able to address the needs of all segments of the school community. Kincheloe etal (2000; p45) continues, by suggesting that the curriculum must move away from rigidity and conformity and aim at the sociocultural context that will have an influence on the spirits and consciousness of those struggling to survive and flourish and amidst the trauma and marginalisation of contemporary education.

So it seems that the learner in new times needs to be self-regulated, (so that they are able to take charge of their own learning), intrinsically motivated and have a willingness to learn, they must be able to utilise the technologies of today and adapt to an ever changing world. The teacher or educator must be well informed of the different learning styles that will be present in the classroom. Differentiating one’s instruction, so as to meet the needs of every child (Tomlinson 2002) by appealing to differing interests, by using varied rates of instruction along with varied degrees of complexity. This then ensures that student competes against themselves as they grow and develop, more that they would compete against other students (Tomlinson, 2002, p21).

I can’t help but wonder are we wrapping them up in cottonwool, protecting them against too much? Isn’t more fun to know that you have achieved a highest score or mark in relation to others within your class, instead of knowing that your mark, compared to your last results have increased. Don’t we need something to measure it against? Or would you be content with your own competition? Everyone says that it’s not about wining the race but being part of it, but really are we just kidding ourselves by suggesting that being part of it gives just as much satisfaction as wining.

Upon reflection, I know or feel that learning in the new times makes mores sense when we look at the different learning styles of the learner and adapt the pedagogy to suit these styles. By becoming more aware of the society in which we live in and how


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