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Past and Future of Teaching: A Science of Learning Perspective

Disclaimer: This text was generated by ChatGPT. Well, not entirely. Let me explain it better. This text was rewritten by ChatGPT based on the script I wrote for my Macmillan Education’s Global Teachers’ Festival session called Past and Future of Teaching: A Science of Learning Perspective. I had to correct and change a few things around

Watch my Global Teachers’ Festival session

Hi, I’m André Hedlund, an educational consultant, a lecturer, and a materials writer. I hold an MSc in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol and I’ve been teaching English since 2005. But don’t let my titles fool you. I’m a geek, always have been and always will be. I’m a fan of dystopian novels, comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and alternate realities. And this blog post is a resource for those who attended my Macmillan’s Education Global Teachers’ Festival talk or anyone who follows my blog and is also a geek.

Teaching is a dynamic profession that has undergone significant changes over time. From being passed down from parents to children in nomadic tribes to the present day where access to knowledge is just a few clicks away, teaching has come a long way. We might want to ask then: has learning fundamentally changed over the years? Let’s look at the evolution of teaching and learning and some tips for teachers regarding the future of education.

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley, a brilliant writer and thinker, has said that we cannot learn from the lessons of history. However, throughout history, humanity’s understanding of the world has changed dramatically. In prehistoric times, humans relied heavily on firsthand experience and teaching from tribe members and the immediate family, such as parents. After the agricultural revolution, knowledge became more centralized with the growth of cities and empires and was recorded through writing. This led to the emergence of specialized tutors and the teaching profession. However, access to formal education was limited, and most people remained illiterate.

Greece was ahead of its time, with the Socratic method of inquiry and contemplation, a legacy that survives till this day. During the medieval period, knowledge was concentrated in the hands of nobles and the royal family, and deductive teaching became more widespread, particularly through private tutors. However, physical punishment was common in schools, and in some countries, such as the UK, this remained the case until recently.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a change in the paradigm of education, as the masses needed to have basic skills, such as math and reading, in order to work in the industry. In more recent times, the abundance of knowledge has made it difficult to distinguish between reliable and fake information.

Since the early 20th century, with the advent of methods proposed by educators such as Montessori and Malaguzzi, there has been a movement towards a more hands-on, experiential type of teaching that was prevalent in prehistoric times.

No matter what period we might be discussing, I believe the fundaments of teaching remain unaltered. The key to successful teaching and learning is exchanging knowledge through various resources. From prehistoric times when people used their voices, nature, and drawings on walls, to today where we use the internet, videos, and books, the essence of teaching and learning remains the same – it’s all about exchanging information and growing in the process.

The three stages of teaching and learning, according to my book The Owl Factor: Reframing your Teaching Philosophy are KNOW-SHOW-GROW. You and your students have knowledge, you show each other what you know, and both parties grow from the exchange of information.

The question of whether learning has changed is a controversial one. Naturally, learning environments have changed, but what about the core of learning itself? In other words, have our brains changed in significant ways? Some studies suggest that our brains are shrinking and our IQ is declining, while others argue that our brains have simply become more efficient and therefore smaller. The idea that we’re getting dumber is not widely supported by research. Actually, cognitive science has demonstrated that our IQ has been growing each generation. This is known as the Flynn effect. The question remains: have our brains changed or has the environment changed?

In the Chauvet Cave, there is a painting of a bison embracing the lower part of a naked female body. Why does Pablo Picasso, who had no knowledge of the Chauvet Cave, use exactly the same motif in his series of drawings of the Minotaur and the woman? Very, very strange Werner Herzog

One thought on the unchanging nature of our brains comes from world-renowned director and producer Werner Herzog. He pointed out a striking similarity between a 30,000-year-old cave painting and a drawing by Pablo Picasso, suggesting that our brains may not have changed much in all these years.

Moving on to the science of learning, the definition from the Johns Hopkins Science of Learning Institute is one of my favorites. It views the Science of Learning as a cross-disciplinary approach that draws on multiple methods and techniques to understand and optimize learning for everyone. Inter- and trans-disciplinary thinking is at the heart of this field. While it may not be as groundbreaking as some may have thought, it still holds valuable insights for all educators. It is worth mentioning that the Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) science is a sibling to the Science of Learning.

To help you understand the contributions of MBE, you can become familiar with the Learning Cosmos, which is a conceptual framework that condenses different learning principles from the Science of Learning into an illustration that resembles our universe. The idea is for us to look beyond the cognitive level and understand how aspects like emotions, attitudes & beliefs, motivation, and learning design affect our learners. It’s an invitation for you to explore the Cosmos surrounding your students and to learn more about how learning takes place.

What has always worked then? Have you ever wondered what actually makes learning happen? Well, according to the science of learning, there are some universal principles that you should be aware of to help your students learn better. The following are based on two books every teacher should read:

Attention and Memory

Attention and memory are the two most important factors for learning. Without attention, we can’t make memories, and without memories, there’s nothing to retrieve later. However, we have limited working memory capacity, and with all the distractions around us, it’s essential to optimize our cognitive load and respect our memory capacity. To do this, we need to use explicit instruction, take baby steps, and repeat what we’ve learned long enough for it to be consolidated.

Engagement and Reward

Sustained attention only happens if there’s engagement, which is connected to motivation and reward. Games, for instance, can be a powerful learning tool, as they tap into the brain’s reward system. To engage your students, create positive relationships with them, create a positive atmosphere in the classroom, and vary patterns of interaction to build bonds.

Connection and Belonging

Research shows that remote teaching has failed for children and teens due to what I like to call “lack of the human factor”. To ensure effective learning, create a sense of belonging for your students, build rapport, and encourage them to work in groups and form bonds with each other. Emotions and cognition cannot be separated, and according to António Damásio and Immordino-Yang’s work, a positive atmosphere is essential for learning. However, don’t allow students to do nothing and never participate, as each student needs to create their own synapses and make their own connections.

The future of teaching and language education are topics of much speculation and discussion in today’s world. Professor Paul Howard-Jones of the University of Bristol predicts four possible scenarios for the future of education. In the first scenario, we could face extinction due to a refusal to learn from our mistakes. In the second, we could see incredible advancements in our species as a consequence of our use of technology and the Flynn Effect. The third scenario involves the use of technology to enhance ourselves such as gene-editing tools, brain-internet connection, and transcranial electrical stimulation, the most promising technology according to the Centre for Educational Neuroscience of UCL Birkbeck. The fourth and most likely scenario is the provision of high-quality education to all people, a well-known powerful tool for transforming the world.

The future of education is brain stimulation Centre for Educational Neuroscience UCL Birkbeck

Regarding language education, advances in Artificial Intelligence and virtual reality technology could render traditional language classes obsolete for a (un?)lucky few. This includes the use of AI-powered language translators, as well as virtual reality simulations where students can interact with AI-powered non-player characters to practice language skills.

Here’s a scenario for you. Your students come to class and receive instructions from you. Then they all put on their VR goggles and log into an avatar in the metaverse. They practice the language you taught them with each other and bots who can respond quickly and cleverly using AI. The metaverse collects data on your students’ interactions and stores it. They get immediate feedback – also powered by AI – and a record of their performance. Many don’t even go to school.

Despite this, many educators believe that teachers will continue to play a crucial role in guiding and supporting students as they learn. Leonor Bezerra and Ana Luiza Neiva believe, according to their book, that teachers will remain a fundamental part of teaching in the future and that the three things that we should expect to change are: The organization of the education process, the abilities and competencies our students will develop, and the type of technology we’ll use.

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While it is difficult to predict the future of teaching and education, there are many exciting possibilities for how technology may shape and improve the learning experience for students in the years to come. However, it will be important to consider the ethical implications of these advancements and ensure that they are accessible to all.

If you embrace and bolster your STEM industries—and the entire tech sector—then the dreams of students in the educational pipeline will have no limit, as they enter a world where rockets are what fuel people’s ambitions as they exit the cave door. Neil deGrasse Tyson

In his book “Letters from an Astrophysicist,” Neil deGrasse Tyson, who inspired the creation of the Learning Cosmos, writes about Brazil in his preface. He highlights the country’s renowned features such as football and samba. However, he also emphasizes the importance of STEM industries and the tech sector, stating that if embraced and strengthened, the limitless potential of students’ aspirations will be unleashed.

While Tyson believes that STEM plays a crucial role in the future of education, I think we can’t forget the arts (STEAM). Science, with its ability to predict events and phenomena, holds immense power but cannot cover all aspects of teaching. That’s where art comes in, providing a complementary balance.

Speaking of arts and futurology, we have two great lessons we should steer clear of: the negative scenarios depicted in dystopian literature such as “Brave New World” and “1984.” We shouldn’t want education to focus solely on technical subjects and banal distractions or to condition society to repress emotions and creativity. We shouldn’t get rid of history classes and arts. Instead, we should hope for a more interdisciplinary approach that combines science and arts so that education does not only propel us forward but also encompasses ethics, sustainability, inclusiveness, and equity.

Ultimately, the future of teaching remains uncertain, but I hope it will be human at heart, fostering a legitimate appreciation for knowledge and creativity. Isn’t this what geekiness is about? An enthusiasm for science and arts combined in exciting ways like comic books, dystopian novels, and film? Let’s embrace our geekiness then.

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