What do we mean by learner orientation?
It’s helpful to think of learner orientation in two ways: firstly, how does the learner orient themselves toward learning? And secondly, how does the school and community orient themselves towards supporting that learner?
Let’s look at the first one. For a long time, learners oriented themselves toward the end point of learning – the outcome, the grade, the qualification. It was assumed that if the learner emerged from school with a credential or certificate, that would open doors for them as they made their way through the world. And for a long time that was true — if you got school certificate or a degree, you could use that to secure a job and then learn all of the other required skills while in that job.
But now there are so many people with qualifications that having a credential or qualification is no longer enough. The various New Zealand curriculum documents have anticipated this shift toward actionable knowledge: applying our knowledge to make a contribution to our schools, communities and the wider world. The spirit of the NZC is to think about teaching learners, not subjects, and many people are thinking about ways to honour that spirit.
Which brings us to the second way of thinking about learner orientation: the way that schools are orienting themselves to support learners. When many of our current teachers were in formal education themselves, schools operated like benevolent dictatorships: teachers chose the right material and level of difficulty for the majority of the class and planned accordingly. But the more we learn about the brain and effective pedagogy, the more we know we need to meet all learners where they are, not where we’d like them to be. Everybody brings with them different levels of experience and interest when they arrive at class, and while some things need to be coherent and consistent, many other things need to be personalised. Frameworks like Universal Design for Learning encourage us to think about how different learners need things represented to them in order for learning to stick: reading written material, listening to a story, looking at a picture.
Implications and challenges
Wisely, some schools are taking a systems thinking approach to this view of learner orientation, recognising that in order to make progress, they need to reconsider not an individual component, but all of the elements we put in place to cause learning to occur:
- Pedagogy: how we teach. How we orient ourselves to meet learner preferences, and these preferences change through a sequence of learning.
- Curriculum: what we teach. How much is determined by the school and the curriculum documents, and how much space is left open for the students?
- Assessment: how can we give students more control and ownership over what counts as evidence of learning?
- Community: How do we tap into the learning opportunities and resources that exist in our communities
- Physical environment: If spaces are not designed to command and control, but to activate learning in all its many different forms, what physical environments are needed?
- Technology: what role does technology play in personalising learning? How can it make teachers lives easier so they can focus on the most important thing?
It’s not any one of these that will make a difference, but the interplay and the relationships between them all, and more importantly how we can look at the physical environments as an activator for this interplay. We call these physical environments modern learning environments, or flexible, open, agile environments, but really they’re just environments that allow us to orient ourselves towards the needs of learners.
Examples and links:
- MoE: Modern Learning Environments
- Personalized Learning: Trends for personalized learning
- The surprising truth about what motivates us
For more about the Ten Trends: