Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Invisible Hand of Learning (Part 1)

The Professional Development (PD) program at my school is broken and we need your help to fix it.

For the last seven years we have used what I call a “push” model and it has proven ineffective because it is the embodiment of 20th century learning. 20th Century learning is all about “pushing” information at a group of passive recipients. The recipients are expected to follow detailed instructions, take notes, absorb information and regurgitate it in the form of a new product.

This is the model we have used for our PD and it stinks. It stinks because the culmination of the effort– the new product– was rarely produced and infused into classroom learning. For seven years the Director of Technology has been responsible for researching new tools and approaches, creating handouts, video tutorials and lectures to be delivered to the faculty to help them meet their yearly PD requirement.

Teachers at our school are required to receive 20 hours of training in technology and all 20 hours have been “pushed.” We are nine years into the 21st century and it is time to rethink this 20th Century model of learning. It is time to stop “pushing” and let the faculty “pull.” Self-directed learning is what I call a “pull” model and this year we will try to pull our learning instead of pushing it.

I am very interested in trying to ignite the passion for self-directed learning in my K-8 students yet, until now, I have not tried this approach with our faculty. The problem with the push model is that it is not as customizable. It violates the the laws of supply and demand that make free markets work so well. Economist Adam Smith described the invisible hand as the mechanism through which needs were filled in a free market society. To paraphrase Smith, when a demand arises in the marketplace, a supply quickly follows as if guided by an invisible hand.

Free market economics is successful because it is a “pull” model and PD should be no different. The “push” model is an artifact of not only the 20th century, but of the failed economies of centrally planned communist states. Centrally planned economies failed for the same reason our PD has failed: you can’t make people want something just because you supply it. Demand for something comes first, then the invisible hand guides the supply to meet it.

Businesses do market research all the time to figure out what people want so that they can customize their product to suit the specific tastes of the consumers. These are the ideas I hope to bring into our PD program this year. Instead of the “sage on the stage” paradigm of the push model, I will be working with teachers to customize their own PD. Teachers will tailor their learning to suit their own demands and I will surrender control to the invisible hand.

The pull model is all about collaborating, creating and sharing in the spirit of 21st century learning, but it does not work without a community. As the trainer I am responsible for the supply of information to our faculty but I am also hoping to enlist you, the community, to help supply me with guidance and solutions to problems that arise throughout the year.

This post is part one of what will be a five part series detailing the ups and downs of this experiment.
In order to ensure that the focus of the training is directed at improving instruction in the classroom, I am proposing a few criteria. I would like to know your opinion about the following guidelines:

1. Training to learn how to build and cultivate a Professional Learning Network (PLN) is encouraged.

2. Training to learn how to use technology to transform outdated classroom activities into more modern approaches is encouraged.

3. Training to learn how to use technology to publicize classroom projects and accomplishments to parents and the greater school community is encouraged.

Is this list too broad or too constricting? Your comments and questions will be very valuable to all of us, so please let us know your take.

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