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Foundations of Learning

How should children learn in this modern age?

Research has emerged recently about how to more holistically think about children's learning in our modern age. Many are deeming 'learning styles' (visual, auditory, kinesthetic learning) as incomplete (or even just plain wrong) and a heavy emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) is beginning to usher in a surge of SEL theories and methodologies. With this new research, what should we focus on when it comes to children's learning? And how do we best equip our kids for the future, knowing that so many jobs that exist now are going to be replaced by artificial intelligence this decade?

I wanted to share how I think about holistic learning, grounded in personal experience teaching over 300 children and what I have observed from classrooms around the world over the last 15 years. The COVID crisis of 2020/2021 has intensified the need for each of these foundations. If you are an educator or teacher, I'm interested to know what you think. I plan to go into detail about each of these foundations in future posts, and why I think of it this way instead of through other models I've seen. I also plan to revise this over the course of the next few years as I learn and grow as an educator and technologist. In the meantime, here are my current thoughts.

Learning Foundations

Which elements need to be addressed in a child's learning journey? What is foundational? And what elements build on each of the foundations?

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I would make the case that what is most foundational to learning in this age of digital transformation, conflict, and climate change is mindfulness & metacognition. Mindfulness & metacognition includes self-awareness, self-compassion, understanding and learning from trauma, and of course, learning how to learn. Children should fully understand how their minds learn best.

To me, next is what I call essential life education. This means the ability to create mental models used to solve problems and navigate tensions. This requires building on emotional intelligence and understanding first principles or truths about the world. After is what I call core education -- basic knowledge and skills in literacy, numeracy, reasoning, and citizenship. This education enables children to build on traditionally taught education and reach higher levels of thinking as they analyze and process new information. I might also put financial education in this category. And lastly, I would say that 21st century skills, which I broadly categorize into 3 buckets: 1.) Technology 2.) Adaptation and 3.) Leadership will be key to education, building on the other elements in the pyramid.

In no way are the 21st Century Learning elements more important than the other foundations even though they are at the top of my pyramid. Having a strong grounding in mindfulness, for example, will be absolutely necessary when our children develop sophisticated algorithms in the future. They will need to eliminate as much bias as possible.

In my next post, I plan to talk about the 9 Hows of Learning. How do we enable students to learn each of these foundations? How do we rewrite the script of our limited, current scope of how students learn?


In the meantime, I'm eager to know what you -- as a learner, parent, educator think.