As early as 1984 Laurie Thomas and Sheila Harri Augstein developed Learning-to-Learn Software based on the central theme that the process of learning is itself best viewed as a skill, ie we can learn how to learn, and that Self-Organised-Learners can converse with themselves and with others (friends, tutors, parents, experts) about how they learn. They are better able to control the direction, quality and content (i.e. subject matter) of their own learning and go on to develop their capacity to learn through life.
The software was developed for sixth form (nowadays years 12 and 13) school students against the following background which Thomas and Harri Augstein would argue still exists today:
- That such students were increasingly expected to study independently, at school, at home, and in work placements.
- That left on their own to learn, they often found the going very hard.
- That formal education offered very little tuition in learning to learn.
- That it was assumed that on reaching the sixth form and higher education, students were skilled as learners, but that this was often not the case.
The software was designed to guide students to reflect upon, review and develop their learning skills. By interacting with the computer, students were enabled to converse with themselves about their own personal learning experience and to negotiate Personal Learning Contracts. In compiling the Software, Thomas and Harri Augstein had in mind that students would be working independently, on their own, in their private study time, but that in addition they could use their print-outs as a part of their Learning-to-Learn resources they could also work together in self-help groups to discuss and to share their experiences. The Software was designed to be user-friendly and self-tutoring, with minimum reference to the manual or other resources, including teachers, tutors, or other learners. However, they also assumed that learners would normally be part of a group or class and so recommended the idea of working in pairs either directly on the computer or directly afterwards by discussing their shared experiences. Larger groups could obviously contribute to discussions off the machine. In their own experience of Learning-to-Learn course work, they found this sharing of learning experiences to be an important and enriching contribution. Personal evidence of learning produced in working with the Software could provide a rich resource for such discussions.
Students have been known to make better use of lectures, books, tutorials and practicals, and to get better at essays, writing up projects, planning and organising study time, and answering examination questions, as a result of commitments involving some 30 – 50 hours exploring and developing their learning skills. Thomas and Harri Augstein saw these 2 hour sessions being spread out over one or two terms, working on different topics which formed part of their curriculum. The software enabled Students to freely choose these topics for themselves. One other very important bonus: Students who have learnt how to learn go on learning effectively after they leave school to go to college or university and indeed when they later take up jobs and are challenged to apply their knowledge and skills in new situations.
The software has been brought up to date in the form of an App and added to the CSHL website for use by learners, not just sixth form students, interested in using Self-Organised Learning but who do not have access to a Learning Coach. A Learning Conversation involves reflecting upon what one does as one learns, both in the short and longer term. This involves thoughts, feelings and actions. Negotiating a Personal Learning Contract depends on describing and reflecting upon the Topic to be learnt, the Skills involved, and the Resources required. It also depends on:
- defining and deciding upon Purposes for learning.
- planning appropriate Strategies and tactics and matching these to the chosen purposes.
- Achieving satisfactory learning Outcomes
- Reviewing the whole cycle of Purposes, Strategies and 0utcomes as one coherent process.
By completing and carrying out the Personal Learning Contract, learners can review their competency as learners and go on to develop their skills.
Learners who persist in practising these Learning-to-Learn activities may find them at first time consuming, but a little effort in the short term can often achieve much improvement in learning skills. There is ample evidence that Learning-to-Learn can very significantly improve one’s effectiveness. We have taken as a basic the notion that learners should spend 15 or so two-hour sessions, i.e. a minimum of about 30 hours on the App. It represents some considerable investment in time and energy but if the learner is seeking a genuine improvement in skill which is enduring, such a commitment is necessary.
The App is addressed directly to the individual learners who are consistently challenged to take responsibility for their own learning. They are enabled to tap into their personal experiences of learning situations, topics and tasks and to reflect upon those, so as to review and develop their skills. Unless learners take on responsibility for making their own judgement about the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their own learning, they will not improve. They may well improve in the content or subject matter of what is being taught but this does not in any way guarantee that they are getting better at learning. At best, they may take over, often without realising it, the good habits and attitudes of another, i.e. the teacher. But what do they do when that teacher is no longer available – when they have to go on learning in a different environment on their own? And, what happens if the subject which they have apparently effectively learnt, changes dramatically as a result of new discoveries? Successfully submitting to being taught is a. very different process to Learning how to Learn. This Reflective Learning App aims to guide learners to take over control of their own learning processes and so to improve their skills at learning.
The activities involve:
- Negotiating a Learning Contract before carrying out a specific task on a chosen topic
- Taking Action (i.e. doing the task)
- Reflecting on Carrying out the Contract after it has been completed
- Learning to Learn Activities for Reflecting on a Topic and on Personal View about Learning
The App is designed to elicit personal responses about learning and to reflect upon, review and challenge habits, attitudes and assumptions which may imprison learners and diminish their capacity to learn effectively. It conversationally encourages and sustains a personally initiated movement from dependent to independent learning.
For both the young adult and the mature student, learning to learn in a free, open and creative way, which clearly sees and uses educational resources for enriching their personal learning, is an enterprise. Many learners are almost wholly unaware of how they attribute personal meaning to the displays of public knowledge offered to them in lectures, laboratories, books, digital media and work placements. Reading, Listening, Discussion, Writing Essays and Reports, Thinking, Feeling, Judging and Decision-Making have become habits that are so fixed that learners are almost unable to stand back and analyse and review these skills consciously.
The diagram above describes the three main stages of the PLC, BEFORE, DURING and AFTER. It shows the PSOR (Purpose, Strategy, Outcome, Review) process in detail and uses the TOPIC to give the whole thing a name or description. Having thoroughly prepared themselves in the BEFORE stage for what, why & how they going to learn in the DURING stage, the learner is asked to monitor:
- Whether their purpose changes in any way as they go about learning
- Whether they actually implement the strategy as planned or did it vary.
- Whether the outcomes, being Skills and Understanding, they have previously define are actually achieved.
Once the learning is complete the learner is firstly asked to compare their intended purpose with their actual purpose now that they have finished. Secondly to describe how their intended strategy differed from how actually they went about their learning. Thirdly they are asked to compare what they now see as their actual outcome(s) with their initial intentions. This may, and most often does, lead to a new/revised PLC addressing the revised purpose, strategy and/or outcomes and so on in an iterative process.
Completion of a series of PLCs in relation to a particular topic will, almost always, lead to new topics to be learnt once again addressing task learning, learning to learn and learning relevant to the learners life more broadly.