Instituting Learning Habits

I had the pleasure of facilitating an unconference session at Friday’s CUEBC conference in Port Coquilan, British Columbia. I had just finished my keynote, so it was a great way to follow-up. Admittedly, I did not start things off very well (my prompting question was too complex), but the session turned out to be productive — in my opinion. There were quite a few beginners, but mostly some well connected educators, for whom this was probably not their first unconference experience.

There was a great deal of knowledge, experience, and vision apparent in the room and a variety of topics explored. However, what still discourages me is how often I continue to hear educators say that we need to “teach our students this skill” or “teach them that skill.”

This is not incorrect.  We have to teach skills. We always have and we always will. But it seems to me that a large and explicit part of 21st century learning and the transformed classroom is the notion that skills must become habits. We need to teach our students important skills, but we need to also craft and cultivate learning environments and experiences where learners are constantly provoked to use those skills as part of their learning practice.  We need to instill a learning lifestyle.

We teach reading at an early age. Then our learners use those skills throughout the rest of their schooling. We need to more fully describe the expanding qualities of literacy that reflects today’s networked, digital and info-abundant environment, and then make sure that learners are utilizing all of these skills as part of their learning practices.

I’ll say it again, We need to think about ”learning literacy”, not just literacy.


What I should have asked at the beginning of the session:
During the day, I had a number of educators come up to me explaining that they were still in university, or a first year teachers, or experienced but considering technology in their classrooms for the first time. They wanted to know, Where to go to begin to learn how to transform their classrooms for 21st century learning? ((What do we call 21st century learning when we’re more than a tenth of the way into the century?)) That’s the question I should have prompted the unconference session with.

13 thoughts on “Instituting Learning Habits”

  1. Hello Mr. David. My name is Kathleen Wilhelm and I am currently a student at the University of South Alabama where I am majoring in Secondary Education/Language Arts. This semester I am taking a class called EDM310 where we are required to read blogs from educators who are changing the classrooms and society with technology.
    I really enjoyed reading this post about your “unconference session.” I have to admit, before I read this post I would also say, “This is an important skill for my future students.” I agree with you though; “habits” is a better word to use in these cases.
    Thank you for such an interesting post. I look forward to reading more from you.

  2. Mr. Warlick, your point about turning learning skills into habits was a very good assessment of what the modern school system needs to focus on. While students are taught skills, both in general classes and in electives, there is little presented that encourages them to actively retain and use that information, which is in part why most school years have to begin with teachers summarizing material from the previous year. Perhaps emphasizing the applications of the material in real life could motivate students to better retain the knowledge?

  3. My names are norbert boruett an educational technologist in the largest paramedic institution in Kenya(Kenya medical training college).More that an other professional medical students need to institutionalize learning habits.A great piece of write up

  4. Hello David,
    I just had to comment here to tell you what a pleasure it was to attend your Keynote address at the CUEBC conference in Port Coquitlam. I also attended all three of your sessions held throughout the day of the conference. My favourite of the four hours was the hour of the unconference. Although you feel that your question might have been too complex…I didn’t think that at all because it lead us into a very good discussion about technology in the 21st century. More specifically, the learning of the tool without a specific context versus learning of the tool within a specific context. I am thinking particularly to the key boarding skills discussion. I have continued to think about the entire unconference session since Friday. I completely agree with the following statement that you posted in your blog post “the transformed classroom is the notion that skills must become habits.” This connects to my regret of not sharing the comment about the importance of the Instructional design of curriculum with technology. With all designs being developed around the question What skills and habits do my students need in 21st century? I believe flexibility and creativity are necessary in an instructional design with technology so that it can challenges students to adapt and learn in diverse situations. If an educator goes forth to plan curriculum with this in mind than the focus is no longer on the exact use of the tool, which has the potential to become outdated and obsolete. But rather on the assumption of the learning context and how differnt tools could be effective in that learning context.

  5. This question comes up for me a lot from teachers about THEMSELVES! I’m constantly being asked when I will be training teachers on specific products like Google apps and I have yet to find a way to say “teach yourself” without sounding like I’m trying to shirk the work.

    Interestingly, I recently gave 26 teachers iPads and only a couple have requested any kind of training and always it’s more facilitation than training. This leads me to believe that in the classroom a part is learning habits but the other piece is tapping intrinsic motivation…call it a skill or a habit, when you want to learn something, you find a way!

  6. This is a great list of suggestions, David. Are you aware of any state department of education in the United States that is promoting administrator reflection blogs like you propose? I know we have a mandatory “new superintendents academy” in Oklahoma for all 1st year supts, and this sounds like a great idea that could be readily implemented. The impact of having each “new crop” of superintendents in our state blogging could be significant.

  7. I believe that teaching students to advocate for themselves is key to developing productive members of society. In my class we work on organizational and self advocacy skills often. While not every skill fits all students preferences I ask my kids to consider incorporating the skills that do fit them into their daily routines.

  8. Many of the skills that educators can teach the students, the students will already know. How many times have there been small children who know how to use an iphone or ipad better than an adult. More than teaching these skills to the students I believe that the educators who began teaching before the digital era began need to learn theses skills. The students that are growing up in this digital world are always going to better at technology than many adults. Before educators can teach any skill they must first know the skill their self. Why do we believe this is different with technology?

    1. @Cassie, You make a very good point here, Cassie. However, another reader commented the other day on an older post, stating that students do not actually have these skills. The distinction that I see is that these children, who have grown up within a networked, digital and abundant information environment, are very good at playing the technology or playing the information. However, they need us to help them learn to work the technology. This is not a skill and it doesn’t come from teaching. It happens when these skills become habits, not just tick marks on an achievement profile.

      Thanks again!

  9. “21st century skills” is the term that educators use so often nowadays. I agree to use this term when we talk about skills that define “technology literacy”—a deep knowledge of technological systems. The skills such as critical thinking, analyzing, creating new ideas, making decisions, and applying learned knowledge I would not identify as a new century skills. Philosophers and educators have argued teaching those skills thousand years. It was very important throughout human history. However, somewhere on the way we became lazy, lost the motivation, and left to some individuals to do it. Moreover, it does return us to the fundamental question of what learning outcomes should matter for students.

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