As the parent of a one-year old, learning is not simply an abstract concept to be studied, but rather a front-and-center daily experience. The world is a brand new place for this little human, and his spongy infant brain is absorbing information constantly, resulting in daily changes and developments. As human beings, we are all engaged in a constant learning exercise. While we may not change as dramatically as my son does from one day to the next, everything that we experience contributes to the bank of information and experiences that we call knowledge.
My son knows what a raisin is. He likes raisins. He has learned what a raisin is because I put them on his highchair tray and I tell him that they are raisins. His understanding of what a raisin is, however, is different than mine, and my understanding of raisins is certainly different than that of the fine folks at Sun-MaidⓇ. Learning facts can take place in isolated moments, but understanding evolves over time as we learn new information and reevaluate our former understanding; a process known as conceptual change (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). Thus far, most of my son’s learning has been driven by relatively passive observation, with occasional suggestion from his parents. As he gets older, however, and particularly when he goes to school, he will be engaged in a more formal style of learning. Rather than simply taking in his world and making associations, his teachers will determine certain knowledge and skills that they intend for him to learn. If we (as educators) aim to teach, that is, attempt to induce learning in another - we must understand how people learn, and develop a deeper awareness of the underlying mechanisms of learning, understanding, and conceptual change.
In the pursuit of effective teaching, committed educators endeavor to find pedagogical approaches that fit within their cultures and contexts, and maximize the likelihood of meaningfully engaging their students. The growing maker movement is one such approach. Halverson and Sheridan (2014) have explored the maker movement in education, and discuss the research opportunities that it affords. They applaud several related research ventures, saying, “We are encouraged that these pieces begin the research conversation on the maker movement with subtlety, rather than asking whether making is simply “good” or “bad” for learners and instructional environments” (p. 503). As with nearly any teaching method, making can be a successful strategy, but cannot be broadly categorized as a binary positive or negative approach. A pedagogical “silver bullet” would be convenient, but it is simply not practical. Teaching toward learning, understanding, and contextual change typically requires a carefully choreographed combination of teaching methods and styles, which need to be adapted and and often reinvented for different contexts. According to Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999), “Asking which teaching technique is best is analogous to asking which tool is best— a hammer, a screwdriver, a knife, or pliers. In teaching as in carpentry, the selection of tools depends on the task at hand and the materials one is working with” (p. 22). Technological tools can play a prominent role in the 21st century toolbox, but the inherent affordances and constraints of the technology must be considered thoughtfully (Koehler & Mishra, 2008).
In a program of study that focuses on educational technologies and their integration with content and pedagogy, it is crucial study how people learn. Mishra and Koehler (2009) state that, “Teaching is not a process of picking up a few instructional techniques and applying them. It emerges from thinking deeply about the nature of a discipline in conjunction with strategies for helping students learn that discipline over time” (p. 15). Understanding how students learn is an obvious prerequisite for helping them to learn. If we aim to improve learning outcomes with technology, we must be continuously thoughtful about the ways in which people learn, and how technology can bring students closer to deep learning and understanding.
Halverson, Erica & Sheridan, Kimberly. (2014). The Maker Movement in Education. Harvard Educational Review. 84. 495-504. 10.17763/haer.84.4.34j1g68140382063.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC, US: National Academy Press.
Herring, M. (Ed.), Koehler, M. (Ed.), Mishra, P. (Ed.), Published by The AACTE Committee on
Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Ed.), The handbook of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) for educators (pp. 3-29). American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and Rougledge, NY, New York.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2009, May). Too Cool for School? No Way! Learning & Leading with Technology, (36)7. 14-18.