Dangerous ideas for the future of teaching and learning

A teacher can never truly teach unless he is still learning himself. A lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame.  The teacher who has come to the end of his subject, who has no living traffic with his knowledge, but merely repeats his lesson to his students can only load to their minds.  He cannot quicken them. Truth not only must inform, but also must inspire.  If the inspiration dies out and the information only accumulates then truth loses its infinity.  The greater part of our learning in the school has been a waste because for most of our teachers, their subjects are like dead specimens of once living things, with which they have a learned acquaintance, but no communication of life and love.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore


I took this photo of a sculpture of Rabindranath Tagore in the grounds of  Kalakshetra,  a cultural academy dedicated to the preservation of traditional values in Indian art, when I was in Chennai, South India in January.

He was quoted in today’s ChangeMooc presentation by Geetha Narayanan  –  who gave an inspirational talk about the dangerous ideas (or inconvenient truths) that she thinks we need to embrace as educators. She talked of the need for smallness and keeping education local (which is contrary to current moves to scale education through ventures such as the Khan Academy and indeed MOOCs). She suggested a need for slowness, meditation and stillness – an integration of mind and body. Her view is that we also need a disruptive and innovative curriculum. Embracing these ‘dangerous’ ideas will enable our children to cope with an unpredictable future.  It is all about wellness, survival and expanding the inner self.

Geetha talked with such passion and sincerity that everyone was ‘stirred’.  She was not emotional, but through her sincerity managed to model the humanness, consciousness and alive and energetic learning spaces she aspires to.

The recording of her presentation has now been posted. Well worth listening to. Here are the links

Recording:  https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/jwsdetect/playback.jnlp?psid=2012-02-22.0635.M.3A0EAE843895F0175E240FB3B50AA6.vcr&sid=2008104

Slides:  http://www.slideshare.net/geethanarayanan1/beyond-rhetoric-to-resurgence-and-resonance


Doubts about Slow learning

I thought I would enjoy this Week 13 in ChangeMooc – presented by Clark Quinn on ‘slow learning’, but instead I find myself a bit at odds with some of the ideas that have been discussed.

I think the main problem is the terminology, i.e. ‘slow learning’. I just don’t think it describes the ideas presented very well.

I understand the basic ideas behind the ‘Slow movement’ –  (Stop the world, I want to get off), and I particularly understand ‘slow blogging’ – as I have been a very slow (non-existent!) blogger over the past couple of weeks (apologies to brainysmurf and Jeffrey for not responding to your comments 🙂 ) – and I have written about this in the past

…. But….

I’m afraid I do not think the term ‘slow learning’ works as well. It brings up notions of being a ‘slow learner’, which has negative connotations. In addition, surely, particularly in this day and age, we want people to be fast learners – and by that I mean ‘more efficient’ learners. I honestly can’t see anything slowing down- so we need to be able to keep up. We need to be effective, efficient, efficacious and ethical learners.

The Adventures of Slow Learning Blog –  provides an answer to the question “What is Slow Learning?” – but I cannot see anything in the answer that relates to ‘slow’. I think what is written there is more a description of good teaching, or a possibly ideal learning environment, rather than a description of the learning process.

Clark Quinn has described slow learning as follows:

So I’m hereby initiating the Slow Learning movement. It’s a move where we care about our learners as learners, helping them with their suite of learning and problem-solving skills as well as their job-related skills. There’s an ROI here, as Jay Cross and I have argued for …….. It’s a move where we care about learners as individuals, not just helping them be better, but wiser as well. It’s about using technology to use drip-irrigation over time as well as the firehose for the moment.

There’s not much to disagree with here and I can see that drip irrigation would help learners to pace their learning – rather than the firehose approach – but thinking about it like this suggests that learning is something that you can do to people – which clearly we cannot.

There are a number of points that Clark Quinn makes which would be difficult to argue with, e.g.

Learners need a Sage at the Side – Fair enough – but isn’t it also a reciprocal process between novice and expert?

Learning should be Layered –  Again this is fair enough – but isn’t it more complex and messy than this – cyclical, random, emergent, spiral etc. etc?

Learning is more effective in small bites than big events – This reflects the ‘messiness’ of learning, but occasionally ‘the flood’ can have a dramatic effect on learning, positive or negative. Isn’t it all a question of balance, between depth and breadth, slow and fast, tidy and messy, linear and random and so on?

Clark Quinn believes that we should be designing for an uncertain world – He writes:

My problem with the formal models of instructional design (e.g. ADDIE for process), is that most are based upon a flawed premise.  The premise is that the world is predictable and understandable, so that we can capture the ‘right’ behavior and train it.  Which, I think, is a naive assumption, at least in this day and age.

I agree – but perhaps we shouldn’t even be thinking in terms of instructional design, but more in terms of thinking about learning spaces and environments in which learning can emerge, which feels less controlling to me.

So I’m still not sure where I stand with all this – but I have enjoyed thinking about it – and also found Paul Prinsloo’s blog post helpful in pulling the ideas together –  not to mention the posts that Clark Quinn has made himself this week and his two live webinars – Thank you 🙂

See also…..



…. for further writing by Clark.