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The Paradigm Change Needed in Higher Education—Right Now!

The Paradigm Change Needed in Higher Education—Right Now!
There is an enormous capacity for learning hidden inside each student, but it can be challenging to reach it. Photo by Jon Candy

My sincere belief is the next educational transformation already being on the doorstep. There is evidence of small changes in the classrooms all over the world trickling down into the main stream of paradigm change in education. And that is the best way of changing the way we approach teaching and learning: the change being powered by the very people who work hands-on with it in their profession – teachers and professors.

Empowerment is an underlying principle in all real learning. For a teacher it means helping your students master either the subject so well that they will not need a teacher anymore, but are self-sufficient, or to know where to find more information if they need to learn more. For students it means getting more freedom in their studies, freedom to choose what and how they learn. Of course that places much more of the responsibility to the students, too, and requires the assessment criteria being changed as well. All this results in better quality in teaching and makes learning much more effective.

Good quality teaching has actually the same principle as in upbringing children: teaching students/children how to connect information they have gained, helping them to make good choices, and successfully meet the challenges in life. After all, we want them to grow, don’t we? And we are trying to get students ready for life, not just for school? Effective teaching is just adding different subjects (and your subject matter expertise) to this principle. Empowerment and encouragement are still in the nexus.

Let me illustrate the opposite case: as a language teacher I would work hard, and make sure my students have vocabulary and know the grammar perfectly – and pass all the exams with 100% score. However, they would be unable to use their knowledge of this language in real-life situations, because they never practiced speaking and pronunciation. One could say that this teacher was a good teacher, because students are scoring high, and they can now understand a new language – yet the students would still need the teacher as an interpreter to speak for them, because s/he did not empower them to be self-sufficient, i.e. did not try to make them feel comfortable in speaking the target language.  This happens when students are not encouraged and empowered to learn, but the view of education is imparting the knowledge from the teacher and books into the students.

How to improve the quality of instruction, and education in general? This is where the paradigm change comes alive. Changing the focus from teaching to learning makes the difference. It starts from focusing on what we really value in education. I would hope every teacher’s answer to that question being: learning. There is an enormous power and capacity for learning hidden inside each and every student. We just cannot find it, and thus we make it work against us instead of for us. This results in unnecessary power struggles that harm the learning process. We want our students to learn, don’t we? So why not give more choices and thus enable the energy to be spent in learning instead of resisting it? Let me illustrate this with a personal example.

One of my university teachers left a permanent impact in the way I perceive learning and teaching: I was agonizing about the next module in my studies, and really wasn’t looking forward to writing about the theories of Erikson, Piaget, Mahler, Vygotsky etc for umpteenth time. Yet, the module was about educational psychology, so what can I do. I talked to my professor, and phrased the question pretty much like I did above. To my amazement he replied by saying how there was absolutely no need for me to get frustrated, and how he would be very happy if I went to the scientific library and browsed the shelves under educational psychology, chose a topic I knew least about and brought him an essay about that in two weeks. Wow! Now, that was almost too much freedom, because I had hard time in choosing what to study – but oh boy, how much more I learned!

Now that is exactly what I am talking about while I am asking teachers to unleash the force of learning! Setting the scene for learning, and then just letting your students to unleash their own desire to learn takes the teaching-learning experience to a whole new level.

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