Learning Preference?

In our math inquiry group today the topic of student engagement, more specifically the lack of, came up.  It was quickly apparent to me that within our group there were two distinct ways of valuing learning.  Someone  (a few people?) have previously introduced me to the idea of “just in case” learning vs “just in time” learning.

I would say the “just in case” model is a far more traditional approach to school.  Many of the teacher in the group were advocating for students to learn math “because they’d need it for university” or “because everyone has to take it” or the better/worse “because it’s good exercise for your brain.”

Teachers are always quick to say “in the real world _________.”  This argument just doesn’t seem to hold weight for me when we talk about why we learn things.  I can’t remember the last time I pulled out some high school or university stashed away just in case knowledge and was really grateful I had that at my disposition.  Aside from the occasional trivia game, and sometimes putting a bit of a historical context on something I hear, I don’t have the kind of memory that recalls things I learnt years ago without a little work.  The constant access to technology, in my opinion, is making just in case knowledge more obsolete by the day.

It seems that being a “just in time” learner is much more intuitive and natural.  When you discover you have an interest in something, you dive in and invest yourself.  If you have the skills in place to be a good learner, you can learn much more quickly and deeply because of how engaged you are in what you’re learning and you have a clear purpose for learning it – be it need driven or interest driven.

In the interest of sanity, I think school needs to do a better job of combining these two.  With relevant problems to tackle, “just in case” learning can look and feel like learner driven (even if teacher suggested) “just in time” learning.

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