Learner development

We improve learning by improving learners.  Through pedagogy as defined by Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), leading students to a place where they can learn for themselves, we improve learners.   There are many developmental stages of learning and focusing on developing learners along this continuum that assists us to improve learning.  If we look at swimming for instance, we have a non swimmer, beginning swimmer, intermediate, and expert.  Each stage signifies an improvement in capacity and understanding. The role of the educator in each stage changes as the learner develops and our pedagogical approach adapts as learner capacity develops.  The learner may also depict variances as learner development is not clear cut and clean.  We can’t predict what and how learners develop, we can only use the ideal form to validate  our pedagogical approaches.

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What does the ideal learner look like?  Is there such a thing?  Richard Olsen, inspired by Professor Nikolai Veresov and his work with methodology of developmental research has listed the following four areas of learner development: Motivations, Characteristics, Sources and Results.  

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For the non swimmer, the motivation is the desire to conquer fear, learn to swim and to not drown in the process.  For the expert swimmer, the motivations are personal best and improvement.

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The non swimmer is fearful, apprehensive and rigid in their thinking.  The expert swimmer is confident, composed and open to technique refinement.  The role of the educator moves from life buoy and physical manipulation to observer and activator.  The educator is always in water for the non swimmer but requires a different vantage point out of the water for the expert swimmer.

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The non swimmer requires intense teacher support, floatation devices and shallow water as their sources where the expert swimmer is driven by the clock, targeted technique feedback by their coach and possibly video analysis.

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The end results for the non swimmer are increased confidence, familiarisation with water, and increased capacity to be mobile in water.  For the expert swimmer, the end results are improved times, aerobic or anaerobic capacity or less drag in the water.

Pedagogically we support these learners in different ways.  The role of the learner moves from heavy reliance on the educator to more independence and facilitation.  Explicit instruction is still a constant medium but there may be more drive to let the learner figure it out for themselves as their capacity improves.  I spent time discussing the ideal end learner form for a Primary learner and Secondary learner with the PE teachers at my school and we landed here.

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The motivations are very similar as enjoyment, personal improvement and improved health and wellbeing are important.

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The characteristics start to paint a picture of the context as Primary is solely practical application and secondary is a blend of theory and prac. Each focuses on personal development but from a different angle.

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The game of VCE is in full swing and secondary students need to tap into these sources to assist their learning.  External coaches play an important role now as well.

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The Primary end results are about paving the way for lifelong love and participation in activity and the secondary further enhances this. There are some clear differences and the landscape requires that.  PE is optional as learners move from Primary to Senior Years but there are also some really strong similarities.  Is it better to broaden these categories of learner development to Early Years, End of Primary, Middle Years and Senior Years?  Are there specific requirements to make the learner development continuum specific to curriculum areas?  The power of the learner developmental continuum is in it’s validation of pedagogical approaches.  A teacher utilises a particular pedagogical approach because it assists with developing a particular motivation, characteristic, source or result for the learner.  What do you think?  As always, comments and challenge welcome.


5 thoughts on “Learner development

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  1. Interesting reflection Steve.The idea of development really intrigues me, especially in regards to things like digital badges. I just wonder what it looks like for different examples of learning. For example, I have been particularly interested in support students with blogging. I wonder if it could be broken down into a series of steps, like learning swimming? Or if the focus needs to be on the skill of creation and collaboration? Maybe this is not what is intended? I am not sure. What about fixing a car? Becoming a cook? The other query I have is whether ironically this is ‘fixed’ mindset?

    1. I’m wondering if the skills of creativity can’t be taught. Is there a learner developmental continuum for creativity? I’m trying to harness my artistic creativity at the moment by completing one of the learning tasks that I set my kids completely on a Surface Pro 4. Is the ideal characteristic for me creative iteration through idea generation? Growth mindset would have to be an attribute or a motivation would it not. I think the linking between the learner development and the Modern Learning Canvas helps develop this area. As always more questions than answers!!

  2. I think that you need to talk with Adrian Camm, isn’t that what Geelong Grammer are trying to ‘solve’?
    Agree, definitely more questions than answers. The big question to me is what can be ‘taught’? Can someone learn how to swim if they have no interest in doing so? Or cook if they care little about how to?
    Anyway, back to thinking …

  3. I like Steve’s use of swimming to explain development, as understanding development of swimmers is pretty important, maybe even life and death important! When does a parent let their child swim in the ocean, or go out deeper than their height, or go to the beach alone? These are pretty important questions and ones that I don’t think can be answered simply by ticking off progression points such as can swim they for 200m, can they tread water for 10 minutes… because understanding the potential dangers and making wise decisions is also an important part of developing as a safe swimmer. Maybe we could work out progression points for all of this but is that really the best way to evaluate whether a child is a safe swimmer? Or to evaluate any sort of development? Rather, the parent needs to understand what a safe swimmer is before they can assess/understand/make a judgement as to whether their child is a safe swimmer, and is likely to be safe.

    Can making wise and safe decisions in the surf be taught? Maybe, depends what we mean by taught. Can a child develop as a safe swimmer? Of course, and this gets a to our definition of what learning and development is. Can the influence of others who take on the role of a teacher assist the development (both in time and in quality) of a child’s swimming? Of course. Can a teacher assist the development of creativity (both in time that it is learnt and the quality of the creativity)? Why not?

    By focusing on development, whether it is swimming, creativity or anything else, as opposed to curriculum progression points, it not only allows us to better understand whether the child is competent/developed, but also allows us better to understand what value we can add, and what role we should take on as teachers. It allows us to move beyond moving anyway from the accumulation of skills, and focus on the purpose and context where the skills might be needed and used.

    If we’re unwilling or unable to rethink the curriculum, pedagogy and the role of the teacher, well that’s a complete different kettle of fish!

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