November 13, 2007

Exploring the “New World” Learning Paradigm

The following is an article from our Fall #2 "Communicating for Learners" newsletter. We encourage your comments, thoughts, experiences, and questions as they relate to this concept of a "new world" learning paradigm. Click on the COMMENTS link below to get started!

The change of seasons can be a small reminder of the myriad of changes going on all around us—at BGSU, in Ohio, nationally, and globally. These large-scale, institutional, and even global changes necessitate a journey of discovery with new directions and paradigms.

The research-based concept of a “new” paradigm for learning in higher education was originally proposed over a decade ago. In 1995, when the term “paradigm shift” was all the rage, Barr and Tagg described a shift from an instructional paradigm to a learning paradigm. Then in 1997, Smith and Waller set forth over a dozen examples of changing paradigms for learning. More recently, Fink (2003) echoed the need for moving from a content-centered to a learner-centered paradigm, while Bain (2004) uncovered the effectiveness of challenging students’ existing models or paradigms, helping them transform existing understandings into better, more accurate models of truth.

Semantics aside, the change involves a clear shift from one-dimensional, unidirectional teaching to multi-dimensional, multidirectional learning. So why now? Primarily because we live in a changing, connected world, with increasingly complex problems to solve.
What is the Learning Paradigm?
The student-centered learning paradigm is not a new concept, but the implementation of these revised pedagogical strategies has yet to become mainstream in higher education. At the core of the learning paradigm is a foundation of reciprocity between students and faculty. Essentially, it requires active, problem-based, collaborative strategies for both student and faculty learners. The learning paradigm is based on a community of continuous learners—both students and faculty. This change from higher education to continual learning has “learning how to learn” as its valuable product.

Just as early explorers set out to discover new places of potential riches, educators too can set out on their own journey of discovery in learning. Christopher Columbus, who was looking for a new world, certainly found something that resembled a “new” place—unfamiliar people, plants, foods, and treasures. But what he really did was bridge two unconnected land masses already sharing the same water and sky. Similarly, faculty “explorers” of the new learning paradigm can help students connect seemingly distant concepts, creating bridges to deeper, synthesized, and meaningful learning.

Beginning and Continuing the Journey
When working toward changing a paradigm, especially one that may have worked well for us as students, it is important to consider the future—what will our students’ emerging careers be, what skills and knowledge are essential for them to be engaged in their professional worlds, and what paradigms might they face? Our teaching behaviors, our expectations we set for our students, and our students’ learning behaviors must evolve to fit our students’ futures.

Tagg (2003) reminds us that to change our paradigm from teaching to learning is to view education through a new lens—“seeing” our work in a different light and having diverse experiences as we and our students interact to learn. As we peer through the telescope to chart our course toward a new horizon of a learning paradigm, what do we see? Where will BGSU students and faculty travel in their journey toward a learning paradigm? Click on the COMMENTS link below to get started!

An additional BGSU resource is “Premier Learning: A Scenario for BGSU in 2020.” Convened by President Ribeau in May 2007, the Strategic Positioning Group prepared this report that conveys a vision for our University. You can read the report at the Office of the Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs website. A video relating to this document is also available.

  • Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning—A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change (27) 6, 12-25.
  • Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Smith, K. A., & Waller, A. A. (1997). New paradigms for college teaching. In Campbell, W. E., & Smith, K. A. (Eds.), Paradigms for college teaching (pp.269-281). Edina, MN: Interaction.
  • Tagg, J. (2003). The learning college paradigm. Bolton, MA: Anker.

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