Monday, August 29

Learning By Doing: The Tool is the Curriculum

I had to brush up on project management skills over the weekend. Did I read a book on it? No. Did I find someone who was an expert to help me? Nope.

I downloaded Open Workbench (for me, a random open-source project management tool) and played around with it. I mapped a few of my projects into it. I looked through all of the fields and capabilities. And I learned quite a bit, including what I needed to know, plus a lot more that I am very happy to know.

For those home schoolers looking at math curricula, I would suggest Microsoft Excel. Whatever math you need to know, you can learn by getting deeper and deeper into Excel functionality, including calculus, logic, probability, graphing, and more.

And you can learn by trial and error, by playing, by experimenting. You discover the material; you own the material.

There are plenty of dangers, I suppose, with having the tool be the curriculum. I am sure academics will be happy to tell me what they are. But increasingly mature software tools represent philosophies, approaches, domain knowledge that is much more sophisticated than the more trivial linear experts. And you can learn by doing.

My grandparents learned to read by picking up the classics out on the farm. Bach learned music, I am told, by copying over the sheets of the great composers before him. I wonder if today's tools will be considered tomorrow's classics?


Harold Jarche said...

Yes, I think that this is a viable strategy for many skills, especially workplace skills for trained workers.

The key then is in finding and/or building the right tool. Kind of like a performance support approach, isn't it?

SkyDaddy said...

You may have overlooked something important - you needed to brush up your existing skills, not learn them ab initio. Certainly we learn best by doing, but learning is most efficient when we have guidance.

Ed Zimmerle said...

We do a lot of project based learning using video editing software. An interesting and occasionally frustrating task.

Anne said...

Learning by doing is an essential skill for students. They will not always have someone there to guide them along. Learning by doing as you have described also engages the problem solving elements students need to learn.

Anonymous said...

Harold Jarche's comment "especially workplace skills for trained workers" reminds me of something Dick Clark (the professor, not the DJ) has said several times about learner preference.

If I have this right, Clark was speaking of work by Richard Snow; in essence Snow focused on who prefers highly structured learning and who prefers learner-choice stuff with great flexibility. In the workplace, newcomers tend to like lots of freedom of movement; people at high strength tend to prefer lots of organization and structure -- probably because they see that as more efficient.

Snow's research tended to say that both the newcomers and the high-strength people made the wrong selection: that lots of organization and structure is good for the beginning (especially in a workplace setting where time tends to matter) because it can give context and foundation instead of leaving a person to recreate that for himself.

Conversely, a person at high strength for, say, working with projects and working with software (which probably described Clark) already has a lot of context-by-extrapolation that can be applied in the new setting. In working his way through the project management software, he had a lot of implicit structure -- even if tentative -- to rely on, reflect on, and revise as he went along.

I'm not arguing against learning by doing (good heavens!), just adding another shade to the composition.

- Dave

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