Why Are Schools the Only Place Learning Matters?

When we think of learning, we tend to think of a school building, replete with classrooms, students, and a teacher. We never consider the fact that learning is something that we do 24 hours a day, whether we are conscious of it or not. This is baffling, because today, we have access to scores of research studies and reports about neuroscience, and how learning occurs. In this piece, we will discuss the neuroscience of learning and why schools are not the only place learning matters.

Wired from the start

From the moment we leave our mothers womb, we are learning, and our brains are working overtime to accomplish this. We learn first from our parents and our environment, and then through play, the most universal form of learning. So, when you pass by the window of a preschool, and you see a bunch of children playing, just know that they are learning too. When kids take a trip with their parents to the grocery store or to grandma’s house, they are learning.

Most learning is autodidactic

Self-directed learning has never been as accessible or powerful as it is today. We have instant access to people, information, and tools on the Internet. The truth is, most learning takes place outside of the classroom. So, you would think that educators understand that learning takes place anywhere and at any time. Unfortunately, they don’t. We need to recognize informal learning and its implications for how we educate our students for their futures.

Next Steps

We know that kids need a variety of opportunities to show what they have learned, and this can’t be done within the traditional P-20 format. Now that we have established that the classroom is not the only place where learning occurs or matters, how do we help our students leverage the opportunities for interest-based, autodidactic learning that can happen outside the classroom walls? This is the question that we must answer if we are to help our students maximize their human potential.

I am not saying that this is an easy task, as the traditional P-20 structure is rigid and resistant to change. It doesn’t seem to understand that the learning that students are doing on their own can them develop knowledge and skills that are deep, personal, authentic, and meaningful. I think that the first step to marrying learning inside and outside of school walls is to develop new ways of giving academic credit to self-directed, out of school learning. We should focus on creating a strategy first, and then scale it up slowly to gain acceptance and credibility. This means that we are going to have to reassess the traditional notion of student outcomes and the curricular pathways that we currently use.

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