What does 'learning' mean to you, and how do you measure it?

I'm not setting out to engage in a hissy fit here. I am hoping for a genuine debate and/or exchange of ideas.

Much as I find his presentation style engaging, I have trouble with the fact that Dr Itiel Dror appears to equate learning with recall. In order to assess learning, he tests recall.

When I was a child, committing material to memory was something of a party trick - something to be admired. While I was deeply impressed by Tony Buzan's story of the man who could remember a 200+ digit number, having heard it only once, I can't help wondering what the point is of such a skill.

Nowadays, the shelf life of information is so short, there seems little point wasting brain resource on committing it to memory. When information... any information at all... is so immediately available via the technology at our disposal, I'd rather my learners knew how to find some or other piece of information in its latest incarnation, when they need it.

One of the presenters at the conference gave a stated goal of her project as being the reduction of 'nudge learning' from a neighbour. I'm having a hard time seeing nudge learning as a problem. In fact, I think it's great, and I try to find ways to build into my solutions the means to nudge the right person on any given topic.

So, in this age, what is learning, if it isn't recall? How do we assess it? Do we need to assess it?

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Good existential question, Karyn.

Learning the way to San Jose is not the same as learning to play the saxophone, learning to speak French, or learning to appreciate modern art yet we use the word learning to describe all of these activities. We're not going to agree on any measure for all forms of learning when the term covers so many different types of activities.

It strikes me that the purpose of learning is improving the way we go about our lives and work. When things change beneath our feet, the focus shifts from seeking yesterday’s formulas to fathoming uncertainty. (Most learning used to be about learning the solutions that worked yesterday. It is shifting toward crafting solutions for new and different challenges.)

In the corporate realm, which is my focus, high-quality learning enables a worker to turn in an exemplary performance, and this is a moving target. Pragmatic learning involves continually acquiring knowledge, figuring out how to do things, unlearning concepts that have become obsolete, and keeping abreast of change. The product of learning is meshing better with one’s environment, performing better on the job, engaging in more fulfilling work, and living a happier life.

A quest for those who measure learning by assessing recall: How do you deal with unlearning? "Please list the obsolete things you have managed to let go of...."
To my way of thinking let's keep it simple .....
Issue 1 is this - we all live in economies that rely on knowledge and intelligence in order to create wealth (I'm thinking at country/ economy level here, not personal level)
Issue 2 We can only create wealth in high cost economies through creativity, knowledge and intelligence. It follows, therefore
Issue 3 Learning is incremental knowledge and experience that contributes to wealth creation.
I always recount the Carnegie Mellon study - we only rely on what we know for 5-8% of business decisions now as opposed to 75% 20 years ago. The logical consequence is that learning is as much about where to find knowledge as opposed to knowledge itself!!!
And yet, so many definitions of learning that I come across relate to the 20 years ago world rather than the current one..
I was doing some work on netwoked learning recently and came across this quote:

“In early periods of human development memory and the oral tradition dominated learning and the practices that supported learning. An ability to memorise exactly what was handed on was a key element in preserving and disseminating knowledge and tradition. In later periods the written language provided a repository of knowledge in written texts …. Learning still retained a large component of memorisation and repetition …Networked technologies provide a new set of possibilities … Increasingly those processing and conceptual skills once important to education and learning are delegated to machines and services supplied over the network … engagement and participation are the added value in the system”

Seems like a good summary to me.

As for how to assess it, again I'd go for something which looks at application in real world scenarios (whether real or simulated).
Great quote, but for me one thing's lacking - and that's experience. I guess it's a bit like the difference between "pure maths" and "applied maths"; or even between theory and practice. I've always found that, with every bit of new learning, it's critical for an individual to have a framework of reference - a way of being able to embed perceived wisdom within a rationale that makes sense for that learner.
You know Alan, I'm getting more and more sorry that you and I have never sat down for a chinwag over coffee. I like the way you think! All my professional life, long before I understood anything about learning theories and all that (very important and interesting) malarkey, I was all about context. "Give them a hook to hang it on," I used to tell the tutors I was mentoring, "relate it back to something they already understand." It comes back to the drum I keep banging, about the when and why being as important as the what and the how.
We can meet for coffee, or a glass of wine! And I realised I didn't address your measurement issue. In my view that's all changed as well. The sweet spot now is:-
1. Business Intelligence - the catalyst; it provides the metrics for ....
2. Performance Management - the measurement issue, and the basis for .....
3. Talent Management - the outcome for high performers
As Gartner said - the next big hit for the Internet is IT - and, just like marketing before them, they won't get it!
Oh; what a mistake...... That should have been "The next big hit for the Internet is HR (not IT as I put before!) and just like etc
Apologies if I have misled anyone!
I agree completely. The main thing for me is that we need to move away from the notion that learning (and indeed, education) is only about tranismitting information and measuring attainment via memory tests (ie the current exam systems).

We need to reconfigure education to take account of the implications of networked learning and the experiences and expectations of the "digital natives".
I agree that the most useful test of learning is one that gives an indication of real world success and that what stops most people from doing it is the effort required.

I came across this site that shows examples of public sector education tackling this problem in the US http://www.edutopia.org/assessment.
Hi Karyn - interesting topic although I am joining the game quite late...
I might be a bit old school, but I think my dear friend Bloom has given us in the learning comunity the some valuable tools, not only to design learning oportunities, but also to asses them. As I see it, the top three levels of Blooms taxonomy require tests to be performed in othar ways than simple recall of info.
At my company, we let students work case based, where their challenge is to apply and compile knowledge to solv an unstructured problem. We then judge their result by going through their sollution, asking questions and offering different sollutions as contrast along the way.
A challenge when assesing the learning and the knowledge in those higher levels of learning is that there often is not a single right or all out wrong answer. Especially for computer based assesment, that is a tough nut to crack.
Hi Runar

The great thing about these spaces is that there is no such thing as 'late'. The conversation rolls on and on.

I must just warn you, though, that you might encounter some very strongly worded opposition to Bloom's taxonomy among the people you will meet, here. But I like the scenario based approach you use. Do you employ any virtual reality tools to do this, or is it text based?

The thing for me is that we are in danger of trying to pin learning down to something that happens under our control and within the environments we create. Learning is no man's slave. It happens when you want it to happen and equally when you don't. If you are a parent, I'm sure you can attest to the fact that your children learn from your bad example just as fast as (if not faster than) from your good.
Actually Karyn - my company aren't all that up to speed on virtual stuff - yet, but getting there s l o w l y.
My company manufactures video surveillance cameras, and our marketing channel consist of a wide network of partners. These partners have to be trained. In one of our training classes we teach people about how to design a complete system. Through lectures and excercises, the students learn about different components and determining factors when for system design.

Then we hand out a case which basically gives a lot of bacground info about a certain site, and the learners are tasked to design a system for that site. The sub task they receive are targeted towards the individual learning objects for the class, but it is tied together so they have to reach the higher level of Bloom's cognitive domain. To further emphasise the learning experience, we set the learner up in teams, and let them present their sollutions to each other.

The teams being presented to act as skilled (or sometimes ignorant) customers, and are responsible ofor evaluate the presented solutions. Our learners often get an a-ha moment and the feedback we get on this setup is great.
As far as my kids are concerned - I think they learn faster from my mistakes than from my everyday work at setting a good example....



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