When people think about home educating they often assume that it is the same as school except with the parents ‘teaching’ the children at home. However, that’s rarely the case; parents and children are engaged in learning together and it is often the children who are driving the education for themselves (see how it works in this article on autonomous learning)
Some people can’t understand the idea of kids being in charge of their own learning as teaching has traditionally always been such an integral part of educating. But with the advent of the Web and opportunity for self-learning, it is an idea that teacher Ann Michaelsen is encouraging through her use of social media. This report, about a school just outside Oslo, describes how Ann sees social media as a valuable educational tool rather than something teachers should be telling children to shut down in class. In an insightful comment made in the report she says her aim is to create a “digitally rich” environment where pupils drive learning and classrooms are constantly online, allowing students to be creative by making their own discoveries rather than being led by a teacher. This is a similar idea to the way in which some home educating families approach their children’s learning. Learning may be encouraged by the parents, but subjects and approaches are very much led by the child’s interests and learning strengths. Because of this the children remain motivated and interested in their learning, it helps them develop their personal skills and find topics and projects that inspire them, propelling them forward into further study. It has a snowball effect on motivation and progress. You may think this is all very well in the early stages, but how can they pass exams and gain qualifications if their learning is not structured to a tight curriculum with set outcomes? The answer to that lies with another interesting effect of this style of learning. Since the children are not forced to follow curriculum subjects that don’t interest them they are less likely to become switched off. They are motivated to engage with activities because they are meaningful and relevant, so the children apply themselves more easily to less appealing academic tasks when required, for qualification perhaps, imposing their own structure when working for specific results. This approach lifts many pressures and constraints (achieving them at set ages for example), yet despite it seeming unconventional home educated children still achieve good grades. Ann Michaelsen believes having some control over their own learning keeps students engaged and inventive; you can’t grade being inventive she says. But many school students lose these skills along with independence, vital for the challenging job market, because of teacher controlled and prescriptive schooling. With the advent of services like ‘FutureLearn’ and the opportunity to find information and support online, through forums, social media and websites, there is developing opportunity for learners to take charge of their own learning. Even if not home educating, through a more self-directed approach young people will be increasingly self-educating; something which can become a valuable way of life, developing and strengthening aspects of character that prescriptive learning does not. The students at the school featured in the article say they could not imagine a school without social media now. One day we might have social media without school!
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