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Plenary session 3: New Modes of Learning

02 October 2017

Time to Embrace New Paradigms of Learning?

Change is driving new approaches to match the needs of new learners, speakers told delegates at the First Europe Learning and Teaching Forum in Paris.


1st European Learning and Teaching Forum, Plenary Session 3The purpose of education is to change the world.

This is the view of Dilly Fung, Director of the Arena Centre for Research-Based Education at University College London.

Addressing delegates at the First European Learning and Teaching Forum in Paris in September, Fung also stressed the need to change what higher education is currently doing in order to meet the needs of a changing world.

“Our world is being continuously changed by socioeconomic, political, environmental upheavals. Yet the confluence of learning, the higher education sector and the impact of digital affords us unprecedented possibilities.”

The challenge, she said, is to embrace a new paradigm of learning.

“Open education, citizen science… learning itself is no longer about receiving knowledge from established authorities. That world doesn’t exist anymore.”

In the internet age, where information can be accessed by the touch of button, we need to understand how “good teaching” ties to “good education;” education, said Fung, that is “underpinned by the need to remain unsatisfied by what we think we know.”

Good education: a scientific framing

Current thinking by the likes of Carl Wieman, Angela Brew and others suggested that students learn better through action, peer collaboration and dialogic feedback, said Fung.

“A number of studies contrast the impact of traditional learning with research-based techniques that drive active and collaborative enquiry. The impact is higher where you have inclusive, scholarly communities in which we collaborate to extend knowledge.”

Put it another way, there is no skill that employers require today that cannot be acquired and developed by research, she said.

Fung’s own research – the “connected curriculum” – is currently being applied at University College (UCL). And the results are “encouraging” according to Fung.

Learning through research and enquiry: the connected curriculum

A number of key precepts or “dimensions” undergird the Change Maker Programme at UCL.

Undergraduates joining the programme in their first year are challenged to investigate teachers researching in their field.

“We call it ‘Meet Your Researcher.’ As part of their induction they have to read the research, meet the professor, ask questions and produce an output. This radically changes the attitude of students to their own learning.”

What Fung calls a “through-line” is built into the programme design, encouraging students to explore connections between concepts, ideas and topics. And instead of assessments, at the end of the programme students present a curated portfolio of work, a “joined-up representation of who they are and what they can do”.

The research-based approach builds connections: inter-disciplinary connections, workplace connections – professional attributes that they can showcase and articulate – and human connections built on collaboration and communication. Fung and her team prioritise peer-to-peer presentations and leverage the UCL alumni network to engage students in their own learning and help them develop as “leaders and agents of change.”

The research-based approach, said Fung, rewards educators and education leaders, breaking down structural and conceptual divides between research and education.

“Connecting with research can enable students to work in partnership with universities, bridging research, education, professional practice and society. New collaborations become possible.”

New Modes of Learning

If education is changing, so too are students.

Massification, diversification, and the arrival of digital natives are driving a need for more flexibility and greater mobility, said Jacques Lanarès of the University of Lausanne.

“The students coming into universities today are very different – from each other and from us, their teachers.”

A number of dimensions will drive change in teaching practice and modes of learning in European universities: connected students, competition, the need for “employability” skills are behind a paradigm shift to student-centred learning and teaching, and what Lanarès calls “learning transfer.”

“We are seeing a paradigmatic change in teaching and learning from ‘what do students know’ to ‘what will the students be able to do.”

This, said Lanarès, needs to autonomy, collaboration, communication – skills outcomes that help student employability.

And while in France, at least, lecturing remains the main strategy, it no longer means “just talking for hours.”

“Teachers are experts in content but students are experts in process. This calls for a kind of collaboration built on active collaboration in their own learning. Modes of teaching and learning that lead to feedback, reflexivity, interactions and application.”

New modes of learning, said Lanarès, lead to changes in understanding and in behaviour. “Outcomes where students can do something they could not do before.”

The challenge to teachers and universities is to embed these learning outcomes in teaching.

“This could be through case studies, active learning, the flipped classroom, experiential learning.”

The key thing is to remain “humble” about what is going on in the learning.

“Remember that the core business of a teacher is to increase the desire for learning.”

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