Types of Learning

In speaking with students of outside45 shortly after they constructed canoe paddles with master boat builder Ian Magrath and their teacher Laura Magrath, it occurred to me that many students found their paddle instantly precious.  As soon as they planed and sanded their paddles, it became something they knew they would keep for a long time.

The phrase, “We keep what we make,” occurred to me, and I began to think of learning.  Do we keep our learning, meaning do we retain the knowledge, skills and understandings we develop, when we make meaning ourselves rather than this knowledge, skills, and understandings simply being transmitted to or at us.

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Educators often describe three approaches to teaching and learning:  Transmission, Transaction, and Transformation.

Transmission is where, in the words of John Miller, “the student receives and accumulates knowledge and skills.”[i]  The knowledge and skills may be transmitted from the teacher, a textbook, a website, a documentary or other source.  The information flows one way and is largely seen as fixed; in other words, while knowledge may be gained by others, what is known is not increased through transmission.

Transactional teaching typically includes inquiry-based learning where students ask questions about a topic and acquire information to come to an understanding of the topic, and problem-based learning, where students are given a challenge they need to solve.  The focus, according to Miller, is on thinking rather than feeling.  This type of learning is linked to “constructivism” where students create their own meaning.

Transformational learning often connects with students emotionally, it challenges and shapes their attitudes and beliefs and through reflection upon experience,  shapes their worldview or perspective on a topic.  Beyond developing understanding and thinking skills, transformational learning teaches students about who they are in the world and as it affects their worldview and may influences the way they approach, perceive and synthesize future learning.[ii]

My next blog posts will be on BC’s new Draft Curriculum and the transactional and transformational opportunities it offers teachers and students to construct meaning and keep their learning.


[i] John P. Miller, Whole Child Education, some of which is available here.

[ii][ii] More information on transformational learning as described by Andrew Kitchenham can be found in his article “The Evolution of John Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory,” in the Journal of Transformative Education here.

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