28 mars 2012

Learning by doing (Critical Guide, E.D. Hirsch Jr)

A phrase once used to characterize the progressivist movement but little used today, possibly because the formulation has been the object of much criticism and even ridicule. It is instructive, however, to include the phrase here because it continues to illuminate the progressivist tradition. Terms currently preferred to "learning by doing" are "discovery learning," and "hands-on learning," but it is important to remember that these latter-day phrases are adaptations of the earlier formulation. 

The idea behind all of the terms is that the most desirable pedagogy is natural in the sense that it resembles the real-life activities for which the particular learning is preparing the student. It is claimed that the best form of learning is that which best allows the student to learn in the natural, apprentice-like way in which humans have always learned. 

It implicitly opposes itself to education that is primarily verbal, as well as to schooling that is artificially organized around drill and practice. By performing "holistic" activities, the student, it is claimed, will reliably discover the needed learnings. This is an attractive doctrine, but it is also a highly theoretical one that has proved to be false. The value of such a method depends on its actual effectiveness. If by "effective" one means that aft students learn reliably and efficiently by this method, then the theory has been entirely discredited in comparative studies. Both the recent history of American education and controlled observations have shown that learning by doing and its adaptations are among the least effective pedagogies available to the teacher.

Antipathy to subject-matter content  

"banking theory of schooling" 
"culturally-biased curriculum" 
"outcomes-based education" 
"research has shown"

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This was an excerpt from Hirsch's great book on education :
The Schools We Need 
 and Why We Don't Have Them.
Recension by Richard Askey :  

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