How to Teach the Unknown

The slides are available via slideshare.

On June 1st I was invited to speak as a panel member at the LELLE conference. The conference was part of the EU funded research project ‘Let’s learn to Learn’ .

I titled my talk “How to teach the unknown“. A bit of a mouthful. I introduced the talk by underlying the changes at the workplace introduced by technological advances and how it impacts various professions. Fortunately, previous panel speaker addressed the impact of technology but didn’t go into depth on it. Prof. Dr. Marco Kalz , who spoke before me, raised the importance of open education and the need for self-regulated learners if open education should be successful. Regarding the changes introduced by technology I raised the potential of a ‘world without work’ , however according to the Luddite fallacy technology only changes the composition of jobs. I reminded the audience about the progress in computer science, starting with DeepBlue wining at chess , then IBM Watson wining at Jeopardy! and recently DeepMind wining at Go. We went from being able to program computers to calculate a bunch of moves and pick the best combination to teaching a computer program when a move ‘feels right’.

The advances in technology have further highlighted the need for individuals to learn how to be flexible and adapt to unfamiliar tasks. As mentioned above, Mark Kalz raised the importance to teach students self-directed learning. While we call it differently we both addressed the need for students to be able to master unfamiliar situation by themselves.

I provided three learning design principles with practical how-to’s. In any case it is necessary that students have some foundation in the domain, as this reduces the amount of failure and thus frustration students experience at the beginning. Failures are good learning experiences, but if students don’t experience progress they can become demotivated. Based on research I argued that exploration, reflection, and task variety are crucial elements in a program for students to learn to become adaptive. The elements of exploration and task variety were based on the concept of adaptive expertise, which I have researched extensively . Adaptive expertise is the ability to deal with unfamiliar problems. It is especially important for information sharing (giving and receiving information), and decision making in high-stress situations . I included reflection as a third necessary element to stimulate adaptability in students as other research has shown that individuals ability to correctly assess the sources of performance benefits future performance . And this – finding the factor that causes good or bad performance – is important to understand a specific domain and therefore important when exploring a domain.

I ended the talk with 2 examples: Kaospilot and Minerva schools as two learning institutes that have implemented these learning elements and through this better prepare students for the uncertainty in tomorrow’s work.

Of course I don’t have the answer on how to teach the unknown. There is a huge toolbox out there students and instructors can borrow from in order to be ready for unfamiliar tasks. We need to take away the fear of this unfamiliarity and transmit the value that pausing to think about a task is ok. It’s not lost time, but switching cognitive gears to make sure that the task we are faced with can be solved with the knowledge, tools, and processes we have applied previously.

The slides are available via slideshare

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