For many reasons, I end up reading relevant books to our field. A recent one underway is Wiggins & McTighe’s Understanding by Design. In it, I found a quote that really resonated. It highlights to me one of the biggest barriers I think we face, that the details matter. Not everyone will see this, however.
So, the quote is from Bransford, Brown, & Cocking’s masterwork, How People Learn, funded by the National Academies of Sciences. It chronicles what was known at the time about the subject of learning, aggregating learning science research. I don’t know if it’s true outside the US, but within you can get a free PDF copy!
Wiggins & McTighe’s book is a primary argument for working backwards. They’re not concerned with the pedagogy, but the planning. Of course, it also matters what your learning goals are. Thus, they also discuss what understanding means. That’s where this quote comes from:
Many approaches to instruction look equivalent when the only measure of learning is memory. …Instructional differences become more apparent when evaluated from the perspective of how well the learning transfers to new problems and settings.
This resonates because it highlights something I think we struggle with. To folks who don’t know any better, as I’ve argued before, well-produced, versus well-designed and well-produced, is hard to distinguish. As a respondent noted, we don’t always even test memory! Yet our goals should be (retention and) transfer.
I think the field has fallen into a superstition that information dump and knowledge test is learning! Which is mistaken, but if you don’t know any better, it’s hard to tell. Reckon we have to continue to focus on outcomes, measuring if learning transfers to new problems and settings. When we do, we’ll have evidence to help make the case for learning that works. Then we can have the resources to pay attention, reflecting that the details matter. ‘Til then, we’ll continue to fight to do it right.