Quantum Theory and Self Managed Learning - and the relevance of this to education
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Quantum Theory and Self Managed Learning - and the relevance of this to education

I once heard a distinguished physicist describe Quantum Theory as a major problem because:

  1. It accounts for all the known facts.
  2. It makes no sense.

His error was to attempt to live in a Newtonian world and not recognise the paradigm shift necessary to appreciate Quantum Theory. I experience the same issue when we talk to traditionalist teachers and educators about the idea of using a Self Managed Learning approach for learning purposes. It is a problem to them because:

  1. The approach responds fully to all the existing knowledge about learning.
  2. It makes no sense – to them.

Knowledge about learning

Here are just a few things we know about learning.

  1. What is taught does not equal what is learned. People choose what to learn and teachers cannot control their brains – much as some might wish to. The notion of ‘covering a subject’ has no necessary relationship to learning.
  2. People learn a great deal through relationships with others – and often the most powerful influence is the peer group. Research has shown that especially for teenagers the peer group is the most important source of influence (and therefore learning). For instance verbal bullying from peers can cause such distress to a young person that they make take their own life – and this is despite having a loving family and support from other adults.
  3. People learn most about how to be effective outside the classroom. (The research suggests that the classroom may contribute a maximum of 10-20% to the effectiveness of an adult in any role – at work, in hobbies, in parenting, etc.).
  4. People learn in different ways – often referred to as learning styles. The classroom is a poor learning environment for most people as it does not accommodate such variations in learning styles. One thing that staggers me is when teachers run an exercise using one of the learning styles instruments showing how people learn in different ways – and then they proceed to ignore this evidence in the rest of the class.
  5. People are most motivated to learn when such learning makes sense to them and has a recognisable value to them. Personal ownership of learning is necessary.
  6. Excessive course-based learning can encourage some people to believe that learning has to be something that is done to them as opposed to the situation where they take charge of their own learning. The evidence is that effective leaders and professionals manage their own learning and those that take a passive approach are less likely to be successful in their careers.
  7. Evidence of passing examinations and gaining qualifications may bear no relationship to the ability to be successful. Indeed the Bill Gates’s and Richard Branson’s of this world could indicate the opposite – relying on formal education may indeed inhibit entrepreneurial success.
  8. The Department for Education’s own research shows that at least 10,000 school children every year get worse results at GCSE - just because they are summer born. It also shows that both teachers and parents underestimate the ability of summer born children. And such children are less likely to go to university and more likely to have problems in school such as being bullied.

Responding to knowledge about learning

I could go on with this catalogue but I hope that the point is made. So when we talk to educators about young people taking charge of their own learning and deciding for themselves what they need to learn and how they should learn, we often get lots of defensive behaviour such as:

‘If we let people choose for themselves what and how to learn they will do all sorts of things that are unhelpful for them’.

The reality is that when we give young people freedom to set their own goals they do come up with sensible things to do. This evidence is based on evaluation studies on thousands of young people in a range of cultures. Self Managed Learning itself was given a Capability Award from the RSA over 30 years ago yet it is still assumed to be an unproven approach.

Sometimes young people need help in developing their learning goals, especially where they are not used to doing this – and the use of a peer group of other learners is important here. Other supportive structures can also be important – and we mention these in other publications such as our free ebooklet on Self Managed Learning. What is clear is that continued confusion about educational processes makes life difficult for parents. For them to decide to send a child to our College means going against the grain of the claims of traditional schooling.

Ian Cunningham