‘What we have to learn, we learn by doing,’ said the Greek philosopher Aristotle back in the fourth century BC. This phrase, without the risk of sounding strange, is what we call today ‘natural learning‘. It perfectly summarizes the so-called learning by doing or experiential learning, one of the most current trends in the classrooms for those educators committed to the change of educational paradigm. This way of learning, not teaching, is not new. From Confucius to Rosseau, passing through Aristotle, throughout history there have been many philosophers and thinkers concerned with teaching and its best practice.
But if we were to point to someone as the true father and renewer of education by experience, it would undoubtedly be the American John Dewey (1859-1952), a teacher at the Constructivist School of Chicago. Professor and scholar of education systems in countries as diverse as Japan, China, Mexico and the Soviet Union; also, of course, he was to analyze the training model of the United States at that time. His conclusions were reflected in numerous essays such as Democracy and Education, Art as Experience and The Schools of Tomorrow. His teaching model was a turning point and far from anything established in education at the time. Even today some of his proposals are groundbreaking and highly topical. Dewey suggested that the student should be the one to build their own learning from the tools provided by the teachers, so that they could face and solve the challenges that came up by their own means. Its methodology can be expressed in five steps, as indicated in Movements of Pedagogical Renewal: History and Present:
- Consideration of some current and actual experience of the child, in the context of his/her family or community life.
- Identification of some problem or difficulty arising from that experience; that is, an obstacle to the experience on which we will have to work, to study and resolve it.
- Inspection of available data, as well as the search for viable solutions; at this stage, the chosen materials and works become part of the school programme.
- Formulation of solution hypotheses, which will work as a driving idea to solve the problem posed.
- Hypothesis testing by action, because according to the pragmatic approach, practice is the test of the value of the reflection made by the learner in order to solve the problem.
He was certainly a revolutionary. He was critical both of the students’ attitude to learning and of the education system as a whole, which in many cases was understood as a place to keep children occupied until their age allowed them to enter the work system – a thought that is still held by some today. He was especially harsh in his reproaches to an educational system focused solely and exclusively on training aimed only at the job market. For the educator, teaching should contribute to the integral training of the individual, beyond its usefulness for the markets. Of course, his ideas and his conclusions should be taken into account when it comes to rethinking the educational paradigm.
What we should understand by ‘learning by doing’
An education system based almost entirely on bulimic learning, in which the contents of the curriculum are forgotten once ‘regurgitated’ in the exam, is doomed to failure. And not only the failure of the system as a whole, the society that results from this model is also doomed. How can we possibly change this?
The first thing to do is to banish an education system based exclusively on memory and measuring of memory through examinations and to replace it with learning based on experience and understanding. As Confucius said, “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I learn for life”. The basis of learning by doing could not be more concise and better summarised.
As Carmen Pedregosa explains, we must provide children and adolescents with “An education in which the student is the protagonist of their own learning, building knowledge from experience, working in teams, developing plans and projects in order to solve various situations and problems. An education in which critical thinking is developed, the search for information from different sources, the analysis and reconstruction of the same by the students”.
Putting this into practice, into the classroom, is simple. All it takes is willingness and a little more work. We must bear in mind that new technologies make it much easier to implement these methodologies. From Tiching, the Education and ICT Blog gives us a series of proposals that motivated teachers can apply to their classes. We extract the ones we think are most interesting:
- Problem-based learning: through problems and challenges posed by the teacher, students learn to solve them and find the information needed to do so. Thus, they identify on the one hand what they already know and, on the other, what they need to know, acquiring the knowledge in a more active way. Try it!
- Research work: take advantage of curiosity and scientific method to make your students become protagonists, to beat bogeyman and learn by themselves. Experiments, questions, research… will serve to encourage teamwork or critical capacity. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
- Flip the classroom: The “Flip the classroom” method consists of students working on the theoretical content at home, using materials and videos provided by the teacher, while the time in class is dedicated to practical exercises where they test the knowledge acquired. Empower your students in their own learning!
We hope you found the information useful and that it will serve as a starting point for all those who are interested in a change of paradigm. Another education is possible. The change has already begun.