Real World Learning: Introductory Research and Reflection
The goal of this blog post is to take a deep look into "Real World" learning. This includes definition, description, connection to content, opportunities, and how this idea fits in with the status quo of education today. As the idea of "Real World" learning unfolds, we must consider what quality application looks like in the *classroom.
Real World Learning Defined
Defining a word can be a challenge, especially when attempting to align it within a given context, in this case education. I first look to the Oxford Dictionary.
In the last year I read a book which tells of the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. I will never look to a dictionary in the same way again. A must read for word enthusiasts.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Real World as a noun stating "the existing state of things, as opposed to one that is imaginary, simulated, or theoretical: we live in the real world of limited financial resources." Traditionally in education it was our job as educators to let students practice skills in order to prepare for the real world. What we have discovered is that successful learning must incorporate real world application.
Successful learning correlates with being able to maintain retention of the material needed to demonstrate a proficiency of understanding. How do learners achieve this long-term quality retention?
The Glossary of Education Reform lays out the importance of **authentic experiences in order to achieve successful learning. According to the article Authentic Learning, real world experience keeps students engaged and wanting to learn more. The information being taught is new and cutting edge. This better prepares students to succeed in college, professional careers, and life in general. The topics also are relevant to learners lives outside of the classroom (Authentic Learning).
Real world learning makes a connection for students to to real life. Often this learning involves improving the quality of local, regional, and world-wide environments. Students find themselves not waiting to make a difference; they are making a difference now!
*Classroom is being used here to describe a location for learning which in a 21st Century environment could be brick and mortar, out in the real world, or even online. Blended learning comes to mind when using this term.
**The Great Schools Partnership refers authentic learning "to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications." link Authentic Learning Article.
The Look! Real World Learning
Check out this Prezi presentation to discover ways to make elements of learning "real world."
The Look! Real World Learning Presentation
Instrumental Music and the Real World
There are 2 ways to look at real world learning in relation to instrumental music. The first would relate directly to the content area of music and the performing arts. The second would relate to the real world skills used and developed in an instrumental music setting that directly correlate with the attributes and levels of understanding of a professional (applying to many career fields). First we discuss the content of instrumental music involved in real world application.
The content of instrumental music can lead to a real world career as a musician, musical director, or music educator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, music directors use the skills developed from education, training, and experience. Often music director will be employed by schools and religious organizations. While jobs as a music director are located all over the country, the highest case of employment is located in larger cities.
The involvement in instrumental music brings about real world application due to the nature of the learning environment. Being in band is unique to most classrooms and offers real world experience. Students are engaged in applications which give them an understanding of skills out side of the music content area. Tim Lautzenheiser discusses this in his article Why Music? Why Band? He brings up specific points that are applicable in the real world, no matter what profession. These point include quality and quantity, ethics and rules, authority and domination, wisdom and achievement, and inner peace and personal security. These are real world concepts which bring about success in careers of the future.
The social aspect of band is an important part in a student's development. According to the Gates Foundation Article The Silent Epidemic, "High school dropouts, on average, earn $9200 less per year than high school graduates, and about $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates." These statistics point to lack of connection with students in the classroom. The application of real world skills beyond that of content are important to keep students interested and engaged in the school environment.
Real World Opportunities and Challenge
Real world learning brings students to a deeper level of understanding. This includes displays of proficiency which are not relevant to the traditional style of assessment (tests, quizzes, multiple choice). This could include the showcasing of evidence, comparing and contrasting competing ideas, and perhaps even an analysis of a difficult problem. This style of open-ended assessment gives teachers the opportunity to allow students to take ownership and dig deep into concepts and projects which they feel truly passionate about. Ownership develops a higher level of engagement and interest in the concept being applied. There are also challenges which go along with this line of thinking.
An open-ended thought process may steer particular objectives to the wayside or order for a deep level of learning to take place. This means that less content is covered, just at a deeper level. Depending on the expectations of the course and the feasibility of the standards to be taught, the "less is more" saying can be a challenge. On the flip side, offering students the ability to take ownership applies to all.
Opening the door to discovery and ownership allows all students to benefit and all levels of proficiency. Engagement and interest become the propeller for success in the open-ended equation. A student who is engaged is a student who can progress, a progressive learner is a successful learner!
While real world learning is just now coming to the front lines of education, I see the pros out weighing the cons in educators continuous progression towards building better learners.
Onward to the "real world!"