This post has been updated on October 23 2018.
Surface learners are not a new species. They’ve always been here. They just weren’t called by such a scientific name. For those of you not familiar with the term, surface learners are those students that are accepting new facts and ideas that are unconnected in their minds, with the sole purpose of memorizing and storing them as isolated items. In other words, they don’t care about learning new things, they just care about getting a passing grade. These students see the course as a material to learn for the next exam. They make no connections, fail to distinguish principles from examples and rote learning is their best friend.
At some point, this happens to us all. It doesn’t mean we are too lazy or not smart enough. Sometimes we are just not interested in the subject, or the teacher fails to get us interested and engaged. I for one memorized long pages of math demonstration in college just to pass my exam. I did this because I wasn’t very passionate about Math; I had other fish to fry. I was a very good student for those subjects that interested me, and barely learned anything for those that didn’t. But this meant I had to work harder, because rote learning is not for everyone. I think you will agree with me that is always easier to learn something you like.
Let's give the Caesar what belongs to the Caesar
When teaching to a class full of students it can be a bit difficult to truly personalize the learning experience for each. No matter how passionate and savvy the teacher is. Of course, any good teacher will adapt and adjust the content to the class level, but it can’t be done at every student level, at least not in the four-walls classroom.
This is why learning management systems come in handy to all the teachers and students that want to “scratch beyond the surface” and access a deeper learning level.
Drop by drop, the glass gets filled
When trying to keep students more engaged with their learning and get better results — life long lasting ones, preferably — there’s one LMS feature that instantly pops into my mind, and I can bet all my money on it.
I'm talking about drip content.
Ever had that feeling when in school that the teacher was trying to pour knowledge into your head, but your brain was already filled with more new concepts that you could grasp? Everything just seemed to spill over, and both you and your teacher were actually wasting your precious time. Well, the drip content concept was created to prevent the spillage.
It means that a student can only move to a new learning chapter only after proving that he/she understood the concepts taught so far — whether we're talking about a quiz, an essay, or other form of assessment. The next chapter or learning module will get unlocked once a certain condition, set up by the teacher, is met. So instead of getting all the content at once and get overwhelmed, the students get little pieces to process and learn, and only then move on.
This feature provides the teacher with the means to offer more personalized instruction. You can observe which students are falling behind and where they struggle, therefore offer extra help and resources at the right time and to the right person. And this comes with a side effect: students who get the right support, get more interested in the subject, and tend to want to know more than the class requirements.
Get everyone talking
Another method of getting students more involved and more interested in having debates, discussions and comparisons. The online learning systems offer quite a generous array of collaboration tools for students and teachers. Being exposed to new points of view and even cultural differences will prove to be an enriching experience to everyone. You can never know too much. And an interesting story can make your students pay more attention in class.
Personal story: whenever my colleagues and I studied a new author in French class, our teacher would describe a few novels or poems by that author. She had such a gift for storytelling that we wouldn’t just remember the author for years, but we just felt the need to go to the library and find that book and read it. I can tell you for sure that that French class was the only class no one skipped, just for the stories.
The right feedback will go a long way
Just as important as the content, is the feedback a student gets. With all the chat rooms, email and social media-like features you can find in an LMS nowadays, no teacher can say that he/she doesn’t have the means to reach the students. Constructive feedback and genuine support can make the difference between cramming for exams to get a passing grade and finding a new passion, and possible a life-long career.
These seem like such small actions to take, but when put together they go a long way.
Teachers can do all these and more with the right school LMS. What else should you consider?
Get on board with the CREW
What does this mean, exactly?
Connect — create a community of learners. Students from the Math class shouldn’t only talk about calculus. Teachers can create groups of interest not only for a class but for the entire school. This gives the students the chance to interact with each other, exchange idea, work on projects and come up with new concepts. It’s a bit like a mix & match game whose end results will be more engagement and knowledge.
Reach — the networking should go beyond the school walls. Learning doesn’t stop at the teacher. Parents can and should be involved more in the learning process. This is easier than ever, they are just a smartphone away. Also, local business owners can be of tremendous help with lectures, live examples and new materials for the school’s resource center.
Empower — students should be in charge of their own learning. Taking prior knowledge and students’ interest into consideration, every teacher can create a personalized learning path for each of them. Set the tracks and let them go their own way and style (some us of walk, others run, and others skateboard — we all have to use our best assets).
Wire — technology is the servant, not the master. Although there might still be teachers reluctant to the use of technology in education, I strongly believe that there’s no full learning without technology (given the times we live in). Technology has to be used wisely — I agree to that — but it should be used at full potential. Just think of how many barriers were broken down by the e-library.
Every surface learner has the possibility to dive deep into one subject or another. No one wants to truly learn “just enough to pass”. Students need their interest stirred up a little. By using LMS features like drip content, collaboration tools and the possibility to provide instant, targeted feedback, teachers can stir this interest. But in the end, it’s up to the students to find what they are passionate about and study it in and out.
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