Friday, 20 July 2012

Let's learn, unlearn and relearn!

Image: 'Lamp'
Do you think teaching EFL to teenagers can be a tough task? I know how lack of motivation and behaviour problems can make it extremely hard at times. And what about teaching adults? Is it difficult? Well, I have worked with young professionals and travellers for many years and the truth is teaching adults can be a fine art. In general, they have other things on their minds. Family, work and a variety of other circumstances can make staying focused on learning difficult. Couple that with bad previous experiences and the result is a really complex picture. However, there’s something much more challenging, something that is testing my teaching skills: training educators in the use and application of technology.

Delivering an ICT course for colleagues at school is one of the most complicated tasks I have ever undertaken. Even those who are extremely motivated find it hard to learn to work with computers or other forms of technology. Is it because they are intimidated by new tools or uneducated on some technology terms (which makes it difficult to understand what is being taught)? Well, these are some of the problems they face, but not the most important. Learning new skills will take a long time, of course, but in my experience, the hardest aspect is reconsidering old ideas and unlearning reinforced habits.

Alvin Toffler brilliantly explained this in one of his famous quotes:“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” In the era of technology it seems we, teachers, have a lot we need to unlearn. “Turn off your mobile” used to be my mantra. Now, I’m learning mobiles can be a useful tool. Writing as much as possible on one page was the norm in the age of photocopies, but not including too much text on a single page is what designers recommend if you decide to have your own website. Countless examples of these paradigm shifts could be mentioned.

A few weeks ago, when I was precisely looking for material to help my colleagues learn, unlearn and relearn, I came across “Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab”, a list of suggestions written back in 1999 by Seymour Papert, the father of educational technology. These are great tips for those learning technology skills, EFL or anything in the modern world. I have discussed them with the teachers I’m training and they also feel the tips have helped them re evaluate some pre-conceived ideas. These are my favourite 5:

Learn by doing. When it comes to technology, theory is definitely NOT enough. When you need to install a new programme or use a modern gadget, do you ever read the instructions? Most young people just learn by trial-and-error but, if you are not so brave, you can always watch video tutorials. Having a look at how people do things is much more enlightening than reading. I have encouraged my colleagues to forget about theory or instructions and JUST DO IT!

Technology as building material. Many times ICT courses focus on the “how”. If you are lucky you end up knowing how to use “Prezi”, “Voki” and “Glogster”, but what can teachers or students produce WITH these tools? Technology itself is not what we should focus on. It’s the things you can make with technology what should matter. I have kept this in mind when delivering the classes. I always ask myself (and everybody else!) :“How can we use this in class?” The answers have been really interesting! 

Learning to learn. “Nobody can teach you everything you need to know. You have to take charge of your own learning”, says Papert. This is probably the best tip (well, I wrote a post explaining how important I believe being an independant learner is!). Every day new things are being discovered and there are no “experts” we can refer to. Any ICT course should be a starting point. I hope I have given my colleagues enough strategies so that they can continue experimenting after they finish the course. 

You can’t get it right without getting it wrong. Papert says, “Nothing important works the first time.” I wish all of my students could understand this! He explains,“The only way to get it right is to look carefully at what happened when it went wrong. To succeed you need the freedom to goof on the way.” I couldn’t agree more! Mistakes are a substantial part of the learning process. 

Do unto ourselves what we do unto our students. The 21st century world is an uncertain place. Jobs have changed, social interaction has changed and most aspects of life will probably change. Most of us have been trying hard to adapt and know how frustrating it can be. Papert says,“The best lesson we can give our students is to let them see us struggle to learn.”

So, what 21st century skills do teachers need? What things do we need to learn, unlearn or relearn?


  1. Nice post Ana! One of the things I most like about teaching is that we never stop learning. Otherwise how could we incentive our students to learn? On my blog I have some examples of activities using internet and the technology. Things I already new and others I have just learned.

    1. Luisa,
      I totally agree with you! We should never stop learning! Technology may be tough at times, but if we want to be a part of the 21st century world, we must try and learn how to use it. Thanks for sharing the activities you create!

  2. I loved your post Ana!!! As one of my favourite motivational phrases by John Cotton Dana goes "Who dares to teach must never cease to learn". Thanks tons for your generous contributions!!! =) Belén from BA

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog, Belén! I LOVED the quote by Cotton Dana!Unfortunately,too many teachers seem to have lost the "skill of learning". They simply assume they know everything they need to get through their hectic days. Let's keep on having a strong appetite to learn and improve!

  3. Robbert O'Conner28 March 2017 at 02:52

    It is very important part of life that people do not perform and end up cursing. The one muse forget the bad memories and unlearn the unuseful stuff so that they can grow in their life.