Creating a Significant Learning Experience

part 1

A written reflection on my learning as I read Creating Significant Learning Experiences by Dee Fink.

We have a problem in higher education. Although most, if not all, faculty members desire their students to achieve higher learning experiences, they (the faculty) teach in a form that does not promote higher learning. The problem is that students are not learning because they did not have a significant learning experience during the course and so easily forget the material.

What is a significant learning experience? According to Fink,

In a powerful learning experience, students will be engaged in their own learning, there will be a high energy level associated with it, and the whole process will have important outcomes or results. Not only will students be learning throughout the course, by the end of the course they will clearly have changed in some important way—they will have learned something important. And that learning will have the potential for changing their lives in an important way.

L. Dee Fink.(Kindle Locations 179-181)

Frank Smith in his book, The Book of Learning and Forgetting, argues, “We can only learn from activities that are interesting and comprehensible to us; in other words, activities that are satisfying. If this is not the case, only inefficient rote learning, or memorization, is available to us and forgetting is inevitable” (1998, p. 87).

According to Fink, significant learning includes enhancing the student’s life, the life of others and prepares the students for work.

Okay. So how do we do that? How do we change a person’s learning experience so that the student has changed in some way? How do we change from teaching something to providing a learning experience?

According to Fink, good courses:

• Challenge students to significant kinds of learning. • Use active forms of learning. • Have teachers who care-about the subject, their students, and about teaching and learning. • Have teachers who interact well with students. • Have a good system of feedback, assessment, and grading.

…if someone’s teaching successfully meets these criteria, its impact is going to be good, no matter what else is bad about it even if a teacher is not a great lecturer or well organized. Conversely, if someone’s teaching does not meet these five criteria, that teaching is poor, no matter what else is good about it. (Kindle Locations 460-464)

Fink has created a taxonomy of significant learning which includes six categories that interconnect.

  1. Foundational Knowledge, being able to understand and remember information and ideas.
  2. Application, putting the knowledge to use with skills, with creative, critical and practical thinking, and managing projects.
  3. Integration, or the connections between other things, other people other ideas.
  4. Human Dimension, or learning about self and others-the social implications of what they have learned.
  5. Caring, developing new feelings, interests, and values as a result of the learning
  6. Learning How to Learn, becoming a better student, inquiring about a subject, self-directing learners; enables students to continue learning and learn with greater effectiveness

By using the taxonomy above, learning goes beyond knowledge mastery which makes learning more worthwhile and interesting.

Redesigning a course has the potential to solve three major problems teachers frequently face. If students don’t read, then redesign the course to give students a reason to do the readings. If students are bored, the redesign the course away from lectures and include more active learning. If students don’t retain the information, then give the learners more experience using what they have learned.

Fink, D.L. (2003) Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (Josse Bass Higher and Adult Education) Kindle Edition.

Smith, F. (1998) The Book of Learning and Forgetting. The Teachers College Press

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