Understanding the Learner
The learner is the recipient of the educational service a school provides. In trying to understand how we could create a better learning experience (in the concept brief stage), we felt it was also important to first understand the learners' own perspectives about how they learned best.
In our pilot schools, this session was run within the Concept Brief stage, and directly informs the Learning Experience session within that stage. However, since the vast majority of the content within the session focusses on understanding the how learners currently learn, we felt the session is best placed with in the Review stage.
"If I'd asked people what they wanted, they'd have said 'faster horses'"- Henry Ford
Consultation with learners can often be difficult, and the view is often taken that they are a prime example of Ford's "faster horses" problem, in that they lack the experience to conceptualise vastly different pedagogic approaches. However, it is also often said that Ford was asking the wrong question.
Our approach was to spend time trying to collect an understanding how how learners learned best. We wanted to understand how they felt they learned well, and what stopped them learning well. What did they think about learning individually as opposed to in groups? What would they do if they were the teacher?
We kept the session visual and interactive, and encouraged dialogue and discussion. This led to a variety of interesting feedback that often took both us - and staff - by surprise.
For example, a common theme was that secondary learners found their peers one of the biggest blockers to learning effectively, continually being distracted (particularly when working individually). Individual activity was often preferred over collaborative for a similar reason. This provided a useful source of discussion and reflection for staff later in looking at how the school could improve pedagogy.
"If you're only looking at the problem from your own point of view, you're only going to be, at best, half right." - JJ Garrett
In retrospect, one of the approaches the team would have liked to have explored more would have been the concept of persona development. This is where the school would produce between 4-8 profiles of imaginary learners within their school that represent "buckets" of actual intake at the school. For example:
Mary is a middle of the road learner, bold in a social setting but not in a learning setting. She is generally well behaved, and keen to please. She volunteers a lot, but staff have to lead, tutor and mentor her. She stops short of fully immersing herself in learning and school.
This provides a mechanism of looking at the customized needs of a range of individuals, understanding their hopes and fears, and in particular designing ideal learning experiences for all the students represented by Mary (as opposed to individual students). This approach has successfully been taken by members of the team following this project.