Making Learning Significant

Over the course of a semester, I’ll attend a number of webinars.  Since the quality of webinars can differ greatly in quality and value, I’ve adopted a simple metric to gauge whether my attendance and participation was worthwhile.

Did I learn something new?

While it may sound like a pretty low bar for attending a professional development session, it’s surprising the number of webinars that don’t meet this standard.  Take a webinar I attended last week.  To avoid publicly criticizing the session, I won’t identify the subject or the presenter here but it clearly didn’t meet my “something new” standard. At several points, the presenter stopped the session to poll the group on our collective prior knowledge.  For almost every question the presenter asked, more than 95% of the attendees answered correctly.  While the polling demonstrated that the vast majority of the attendees already knew the topic in depth, the presenter went on to explain the concepts that most of us already knew.  Was the session worthwhile?  Hardly.

Earlier in the semester, however, I attended a webinar that still has me thinking.  The webinar, organized by Faculty Focus, discussed how Learning Assessment Techniques (LATs) could be used to gauge and promote student learning.  During the session, the presenter, Dr. Elizabeth Barkley, showed real examples from her class that demonstrated how LATs could be incorporated in face-to-face and online classes.  While the presentation and content was interesting, it was the framework that she used to organize the LATs that made really stop and ponder.

In my teaching, I typically draw on Bloom’s Taxonomy to examine the levels of learning I’m targeting with my students. Dr. Barkley, however, introduced a different taxonomy with which my colleagues in attendance and I were not familiar. The Taxonomy for Significant Learning was developed be Dee Fink and targets learning at the collegiate level.  Since this was a new framework for me, I did some research so I could offer a short overview here.  Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, Fink’s taxonomy has six different levels of learning. These include:

1. Foundational Knowledge:  Similar to Bloom’s Knowledge and Comprehension levels, Foundational Knowledge involves remembering and understanding information and important concepts and ideas.

2. Application:  This level is also represented in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  This represents learning where students are required to problem solve, think critically and manage complex projects.

3. Integration:  This is the first major departure from Bloom.  Here, students are expected to connect ideas, people and realms of life.  Students attempt to recognize similarities and connections across subjects to look for patterns and interactions.

4. Human Dimension: Here, students learn about themselves and others and develop an understanding of interpersonal dimensions at play in the world around them.

5. Caring:  At this level, students develop new interests, values and feelings through classroom interactions.  By participating in lesson and discussions, students change the way they emotionally connect to something.

6. Learning How to Learn: Here, Fink introduces a metacognitive level.  At this level, students develop new ways to learn and may identify better ways to self-direct their learning.

By introducing several socio-emotional levels, it’s clear that Fink takes a broader view to the learning process than Bloom’s cognitive-based taxonomy does.  It’s also important to recognize that Fink identifies “significant learning” as processes where the different levels interact with one another. Think of those rich activities and lessons where students make connections beyond the content and learn about themselves and the world in the process. That’s significant learning in Fink’s view.

While Barkley’s webinar didn’t prompt me to incorporate Learning Assessment Techniques, it introduced me to the Taxonomy of Significant Learning.  At this point, I’m still mentally working through Fink’s taxonomy but I’m considering retooling some lessons and activities to better target additional levels of learning. I doubt that any webinar would be identified as being significant according to Fink’s taxonomy. Since I learned something new in Barkley’s LAT webinar, however, I definitely consider the session “worthwhile.”

 

 

 

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