Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Learning, #assessments should be future, context oriented thx @jaycross

Sitting in a train heading for The Open University  on a rainy day in September (Autumn in the Northern hemisphere). Writing a progress log or Plog as Jay Cross would call it, and it took me ages as I struggled with the use and application of assessing new knowledge. In some ways this plog relates to discussions on the use of testing/assessing which is a reoccurring discussion in education everywhere and online learning in particular.

Self-assessment in the real learning realm
I suddenly wondered how intuitive assessing one’s own knowledge really is. What we do with new ideas? Do we just apply them, do we test them in safe environments first before implementing them in real life, do we Just Do It and test new stuff live as we live it … What would be my take on assessment and its place within real learning? At the end I realized that if my aim is to increase lifelong learning skills, my assessment methods should push me to point my vision towards my (wishful) future.

Read and grow
The new book on Real Learning by Jay Cross has kept parts of my brain busy over the last couple of weeks. It is essentially a book for those that want to change their lives towards new or adjusted goals through learning (professionally and/or personally).  Jay Cross kindly asked me to furnish him with feedback on a beta version of his book, and of course I gladly accepted the task. At present I go through the book at a slow pace (kid sick, working on PhD, dream, getting some rogue research planned and described, being me). But despite my slow pace (or is it because of it?) the book seems to stir my mind on subjects I found straight forward in some ways, and makes me wonder whether they are as straight forward as they should be.

The latest idea that I got questioned whether power learners (with which I would describe those people who reinvent themselves every few years, or people who read the book and put its suggestions into practice) need to self-assess their newly acquired content or whether that is taking the learning out of its organically formed or natural ecosystem: the growing, living mind. Is assessment in any way a natural phenomenon?

To consciously self-assess versus  applying intuitively
Traditionally, if you build a module for either classic, blended or online learning, you are going to fit in some self-assessments. It is generally a routine action, and build on two main premises:

  1. if someone goes through some learning, they want to see whether they really understood what they learned,
  2. because those who build a course want to have some kind of measurement or grading tool to see whether the new content/action/practice has been understood (or it has lead to obtain a learning objective).

This prompted me to suggest that the Real Learning book might possibly cover an overview of ways of self-assessing newly assimilated knowledge. So I posted it that suggestion to the executive group forum of the book, to add my two cents worth. As soon as I posted my remark, I could feel something was wrong with it. It felt like a dinosaur statement and I could not figure out why at first.

Assessing knowledge seems impossible within its own confinement. As I was thinking about it I got the idea that assessing knowledge is only useful when it takes that knowledge towards a new future. It does not reflect on what is learned, but where one wants to take it. Informal learning, or adult authentic learning has little use for the past, it needs to be useful in the present (for sure) and the future (possibly).

Tracing my own learning, I can honestly say I do not build external architectures of ecologies to test my own new knowledge. I just venture out into the real world and implement them. It might be an intuitive action, it might rely on previous knowledge, never the less it is moving forward.

Learning as part of a personal trait
Additionally, I feel that assessing new knowledge is part of a very personal action. The personal constructs the learning. Learning is a very personal action: what we learn, how we learn, the reasons we learn, … and how we then use what is learned. Research literature is littered with the adagio that we connect new knowledge to the old knowledge we have acquired… but this is highly personal. The way we all think, our philosophical frame, our hopes and dreams make up our thinking.

Again a central question comes up: can we really uplift people universally through the process of learning? Does it benefit the world, or is it just a simple natural process that furnishes a sense of accomplishment? Can assessment take us to a more human level of thinking? A type of assessment which fits our own goals, this means assessment should have an element of future enabling in it… which means it must be made generic, enabling contextual solutions and - no matter what - it will be implemented by the person, in her/his vision.

I do not assess consciously?
While reflecting upon my own assessment iterations, I realized I do not consciously assess anything I learn. But on an unconscious level I do implement new stuff I learn.

But then again I also do not stumble upon integrating new knowledge into my own context. First of all I shape the new knowledge that I am acquiring. Pretty much like a combination of steps put forward by Jay Cross: reflecting, tracking progress of my own work/interest by sharing it, discussing content by Working Out Loud within my own personal learning network, and of course the very personal yet inevitable characteristic of anyone wanting to grow: critical thinking as an organic barometer for learning

Assessing should be future oriented
So suddenly, while racing ahead within the Virgin express train I realized that from now on, the only assessments I will make or take would be those that take me to the next level. Because that is the only real life situation. It also prepares for lifelong learning.
There is no use in assessing only what is seen, it is much more useful to see whether one can apply new knowledge in a personal, as such contextualized setting. Every course or training I took that demanded contextualized responses always pushed me forward. In a way I guess that what I will do from now is use assessment purposes to ask learners to build their own advanced organizers for the next bit of content they want to assimilate and turn into authentically useful knowledge.