Stephen Downes’ comment on the Post Article: Does ‘discovery learning’ prepare Alberta students for the 21st century or will it toss out a top tier education system?

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~ Stephen’s Web.

Does ‘discovery learning’ prepare Alberta students for the 21st century or will it toss out a top tier education system?

I have long thought that “talent” is something people are born with – they may have more or less, but without enough of it, no amount of training can help someone become great at something. W/o “natural” musical talent someone can study an instrument and become good, but never great.

The same is true for teaching, and what worries me about this move away from structured education is that it requires teachers with actual teaching talent in order to succeed. I know many extraordinary teachers, but I also know many mediocre ones, and I worry what can happen when they are asked to abandon the “traditional teaching methods”.

In many ways, the traditional structure of formal education provides a framework within which uninspired, untalented, and novice teachers can work effectively. It’s kind of like the ideas behind software engineering. Software engineering is “programming for those who cannot.” (Quote from Edsger Dijkstra). Structured teaching works adequately in the hands of those who have little talent for teaching.

Now, some novice teachers can move beyond the structure and ultimately become superb teachers – we all probably know a few of these. But note: we all probably know only a few of all the teachers who stood in front of our classrooms.

Now think of your more average and your uninspired or even lousy teachers and imagine  what would happen to the kids in their classes if those teachers are forced to adopt a “discovery learning” model. Yikes!

Perhaps even worse, teaching teachers how to do discovery learning requires Education faculty who are also talented – and I fear the percentage of extraordinary Ed faculty is considerably smaller than the percentage of extraordinary teachers.

Discovery learning is the educational equivalent of improv (or jazz) …. not everyone can do that.

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