Want to Make Learning Meaningful? We Need Disruptive Change!

Does the word “disruptive” make you cringe? Does it make you think of disorder? Or chaos? It doesn’t have to.

A disruptive change is a big, radical change. A reinvention. Something that Clayton Christensen says needs to happen to schools too. This concept resonates well with Alberta’s Inspiring Education. But how can it be translated into facts? I always struggled with this question. How can learning be “disrupted” and made truly relevant and engaging within the confines of present-day schools? Or should the disruptive change happen first in order for boundaries to break open?

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As science educator, I always tried to make learning more interesting. Over the years I used lots of add-ons to classroom instruction in an attempt to motivate my students and enrich the curriculum. I call them add-ons because they are additions to the traditional school experience, with enriching but no transformative effects on learning. Typically the science gets delivered to the learners who must discover its relevance – They bring improvement but no disruption to the status quo. Here are some add-ons which, in my experience, are feasible today.

I also tried some problem-based learning with my students. This kind of learning – designed around authentic, real-world problems – engages the learners’ minds and grows their competencies in a natural way. It is cross-disciplinary and individualized – thus, well aligned with the vision of Inspiring Education. Typically students take ownership of their learning since the problem they are trying to solve is directly relevant to them. But it doesn’t fit well with the traditional, present-day school structure, and therefore it is much harder to use. Making this kind of learning feasible will require disruption to the status quo.

If we want meaningful education we need problem-based learning as the centre-piece of the redesigned school curriculum. Research and projects should not have to be done outside of classroom time, during weekends and the summer vacation. Instead, they should become an integral and prominent part of the school program. Add-on opportunities should expand into multi-day and year-long educational programs where young people learn by doing, by carrying out real tasks. And expert mentorship must become a regular school component and a basic resource. All of this would bring disruptive change to the established system, and would truly innovate education. Alberta Ed says it wants to foster innovation. Let’s see to what extent is Alberta Ed willing to loosen the control and allow such changes to happen!

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