Distributed Learning – Post 1 – Fashionably Educated

I was inspired this week by the Rotherham and Willingham (2009) article as well as the quote that Sam began her post with.  Rotherham and Willingham maintain that “[i]t’s exciting to believe that we live in times that are so revolutionary that they demand new and different abilities. But in fact, the skills students need in the 21st century are not new” (p. 16).  The skills we require and demand of our students now are no different than those required and demanded in the past, they are just acquired in a different way.  And Sam quoted von Humboldt who developed the German model of the university in the early 1800s as saying that the university teacher is not a teacher in the same sense as at other levels, but is available to help guide and support his students in their learning.  The student-centered approach is what started it all hundreds of years ago.  “It would seem that what is old is new again!” (Pearson, 2013).

We want the same things out of our students as we always have.  But the way our instructors teach those students is different at different levels and has changed from a student-centered approach to a teacher-centered approach somehow/somewhere along the way.  Recently there has been another shift moving back towards the student-centered approach again, perhaps coinciding with the increase in technology used in the classroom.

Those ideas got me thinking… Is education like fashion?  We think we’re coming up with new ideas when really we’re just re-inventing the past.  Bell bottoms and neon tops are like self-directed learning and critical thinking:  If we let some time pass and bring them back with a slight twist, people will think we’re revolutionizing the industry.

I remember when I was in highschool, my Mom chuckled as I begged her to take me to the city to go shopping for bell bottoms.  “Those things came back?!?” she said.  If only she had saved her clothing from highschool!  But the bell bottoms of the 70’s weren’t cool like the ones of the 90’s.  Hers were made of brown corduroy while mine were of the highly fashionable light washed denim.  “Sooo, not the same!”

So what is it about education that we think we’re revolutionizing?  Does adding a technological or online element to our classrooms suddenly make self-directed learning more appealing?  Are our students better critical-thinkers and problem-solvers because we have them discuss their ideas in an online discussion board rather than during face-to-face in class time?  We’re not changing what we expect from education, we’re merely changing the fabric of teaching from the outdated corduroy of the teacher-centered approach of information dissemination to the oh-so-hip-and-cool student-centered approach.


Pearson, Sam. July 7, 2013. Blog Post. “Blog Post #1 – Distributed Learning Summer 2013”.  http://samanthapearsonelearning.ucalgaryblogs.ca/

Rotherham, A. J., & Willingham, D. (2009). 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 16-21.

2 thoughts on “Distributed Learning – Post 1 – Fashionably Educated

  1. I like the way you connected your own thoughts with Sam’s. In fact many of the “soft skills” are the same today as they were one or two hundred years ago, as you say. You ask the question “Are our students better critical-thinkers and problem-solvers because we have them discuss their ideas in an online discussion board rather than during face-to-face in class time? “. Perhaps not, BUT if these students will dialogue with others in an online discussion when they would be too shy or intimidated to voice their opinion in a classroom … then maybe we are onto something truly different here. Just a thought.

    Thanks for your good post Stephanie.


  2. Hi Stephanie,

    I quite like how you compared education to fashion. I do believe students are acquiring skills in different ways, and as teachers we are expected to guide them in this direction. Instead of relying on the librarian for assistance, students now need to know how to search online. There are certainly plusses and minuses to technology, but if we can find a way to use it effectively for our students in place of a previous lesson that did not work so well, then perhaps we are on the right track.

    Great points, Kara

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