Learning Paradigm
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What Is the Learning Paradigm?

At least since Terry O'Banion's 1999 article merged concern for learner and learning, it is probably best to consider that the Learning Paradigm includes the so-called Teaching Paradigm.  The best faculty move comfortably and seamlessly from one set of practices to another, depending on their students' characteristics, motivation, abilities.  This assumption accounts for the "not only...but also" structure of the statements below, which are an attempt to summarize the Learning Paradigm.  Although this articles focuses on faculty planning for their courses, the Learning Paradigm is first and foremost a movement of more than a decade old aimed at changing how colleges and universities respond as institutions to individual students.  As Barr and Tagg suggest, "In other words, the Learning Paradigm envisions the institution itself as a learner—over time, it continuously learns how to produce more learning with each graduating class, each entering student. "

In 1999, George R. Boggs summarized the 4 basic tenets of the Learning Paradigm for educational institutions:  
  1. First, the mission of colleges and universities should be student learning rather than teaching or instruction. 
  2. Second, institutions should accept responsibility for student learning. 
  3. Third, supporting and promoting student learning should be everyone’s job and should guide institutional decisions. 
  4. Fourth, institutions should judge their effectiveness and be evaluated on student learning outcomes rather than on resources or processes.

Core Trait: Interaction

Essentially, the Learning Paradigm, reacting to the seeming passivity of students in a classroom lecture, focuses on interaction to increase the learning of all students.



Faculty not only lecture to disseminate information but they also use small groups to apply and extend the basic knowledge in the course (not just how much the faculty member "covered" in a class but how much students "uncovered").  Boggs asserts, "Faculty members who promote interaction among students in and out of class are rewarded with improved student persistence and


Faculty are not only concerned with getting as many students as possible to meet course standards, but they are also concerned with enhancing the self-images of students who must wield course concepts during their careers.


Marveling at the success rate of nursing programs, educators are showing an interest in learning communities (or at least cohorts) and competency-based instruction [and mastery instruction] to minimize the false competition of the learning curve and reward all students who meet the course standard.  So faculty not only look for ways to use competition to motivate students but also collaboration and cooperation to increase clarity for the largest percentage of students possible.


In terms of technology, faculty not only use overhead projector in class and telephone out of class to connect with students and provide access but also multimedia presentations in class and online, along with email access, online forums and chats, and course websites for archiving readings and displaying student work, possibly for peer review.


In terms of knowledge, faculty not only get students to understand faculty presentations and textbook but also to screen information for themselves not just for relevance but also for quality and reliability.


Faculty not only read and study in their own fields, but they also foster teaching as a discipline by reading research about learning--and even conducting classroom research on learning.


Faculty not only get all the mileage they can out of traditional grading methods but also may extend student efforts via "learning contracts, behavioral objectives, competency-based education, learning outcomes, skill standards," to borrow a list from O'Banion.  More globally, some faculty may use not only the 3-credit quarter or semester course but also seek ways to go beyond that structure for "anywhere, anytime" learning (and evaluating of learning).


Faculty not only use tests, quizzes, papers, projects, labs reports, as befits their disciplines, but also use formative feedback to see if students are "getting it" and can use "it," as well as to surface barriers to learning that can be fixed during a course.


Faculty, then, are not just experts, disseminators of information in their field, but they are also professional teachers who use all of the tools and systems at their command to craft not only finely wrought lectures but all of their students' learning experiences. 

Recommended Readings

These 3 come recommended by a team from Alabama Southern Community College, who conducted a workshop at Danville CC in Fall, 2001, sponsored by a consortium of rural community colleges and arranged by Janet Laughlin, Central RCTE Chair.  NOTE:  These articles are much more antagonistic than realistic; consequently, they mostly see opposing forces in education rather than an array of factors from which practitioners will draw to urge appropriate amounts and quality of work out of their charges.  Who "controls" student learning?  Realistically, both student and faculty member have veto power over learning, yet each can also thrive despite the other.  Education works best when students and faculty act as if they are on the same side; without mutual trust, there may be grades (even high grades) but there won't be much learning going on.  Educational experiences work best when both students and faculty learn content and learn to ways make that content clearer to other people.

bullet Barr and Tagg’s “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education”:  This abstract concludes with a link to the article that compares the "Instruction Paradigm" vs. the "Learning Paradigm."  The charts together comprise a compendium of useful teaching methods; the trick in applying them is to determine the right instructional context for each method: When do I use what?
bulletBoggs’ “What the Learning Paradigm Means for Faculty”:  In addition to implications for faculty (which I have focused on above), Boggs also suggests implications for institutions.
bulletTerry O'Banion, President of the League for Innovation in Community Colleges, sets out the predecessors of learner-centeredness and learning-centeredness in "The Learning College: Both Learner and Learning Centered."

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