Byron's Babbles

“Sticky” Learning

Screen Shot 2020-08-26 at 11.35.50 AMI made the comment last week that relevance makes the learning “sticky.” This really caught on and caused quite a bit of discussion. As an old Agriculture Science teacher I have preached about using relevant and real-world contexts for facilitating learning for years. In fact, I even wrote a book about it: The Hand In The Back of  The Room: Connecting School Work To Real Life. This book is all about how we (four agriculture science teachers at one school) went about teaching science in the relevant context of agriculture. The great part of the story is the statistically significant impact leading learning in a relevant context had on student learning. In other words, there was proof that relevance makes learning “sticky.”

41mQxC0XQNL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_ML2_In the book I state, “It has always been my belief that there are three worlds that a student exists and learns in; school world, real world, and virtual world. While these three worlds can be drawn as three separate circles, I believe that for true learning to take place we must, as educators, help connect the circles for them. This means finding a way to facilitate learning in a way in which the student uses real world contexts where the student plays an active role” (location 320 on Kindle). Right now, during the Global Pandemic (we are in day 165) we have some real opportunities to make use of these world colliding. I wrote about this yesterday in When Worlds Collide. I also argued in the book that, “…facilitating learning in a relevant context enables the work to be student centered and for there to be a connection made between the student’s real world and school world for learning” (location 331 on Kindle). This connection is what makes the learning so “sticky.”

“We have to make sure that all our students have access to these kinds of challenging and hands-on activities. Although much of the focus has been on the new technology that is fueling the maker movement, even more important are the values, dispositions and skills that it fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork and “hard fun.” ~ Secretary of Education, John King Jr.

I proposed at time of writing the book and would still advance six ideas for improving learning (Ernest, 2016):

  1. Knowing what the end product needs to be before practicing the parts
  2. Study content and apply it to authentic real world predictable and unpredictable problems/issues
  3. Applied learning opportunities must be afforded to the students
  4. Students must participate in active exploration of real world problems
  5. There must be opportunities for students to make adult connections
  6. We must make schoolwork more like real work and real life.

If we intentionally use the six ideas, we will make the learning be what former Secretary of Education, John King Jr. called “hard fun.” The nature of using relevant contexts makes the learning more rigorous. I love the term “hard fun” over rigor. If our students are learning to adapt what they have learned by addressing real world situations they will be more motivated and the learning will stick with them.

The bottom line is that education can be inspiring for our students. I believe agriculture education has an important place in creating a real world context for our students to learn in. I also believe that there are many ways for cross-curricular collaboration to be done in all subjects. At the very least, we have an obligation to our students to find ways to give our students hands-on, real life lessons that answer the questions of the hand in the back of the room and make the learning sticky for our students.