Learning goal and teaching goal #change11

noordpool poohSometimes simple questions become a lot more complicated when one starts thinking about them. And these  simple questions will start to reproduce like bacteria in a lab test when one thinks any longer. Colin Milligan did ask if I had been able to achieve my goal with this MOOC. And what was that goal. This question kept coming back in my mind again and again. (I am not in any way criticizing Colin Milligan’s research)

How could one possibly formulate a goal before one is learning something? One could say I want to learn X, but one only will know what that means after one has learned X.

“Going on an Expotition?” said Pooh eagerly. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on one of those. Where are we going to on this Expotition?”
“Expedition, silly old Bear. It’s got an ‘x’ in it.”
“Oh!” said Pooh. “I know.” But he didn’t really.
“We’re going to discover the North Pole.”
“Oh!” said Pooh again. “What is the North Pole?” he asked.
“It’s just a thing you discover,” said Christopher Robin carelessly, not being quite sure himself.

I think any learning goal formulated before a course starts will have been changed when the course is going on. Most learning goals will almost only cover the formal learning part of learning. which is only 5% of all occurring learning.

When the #Change11 MOOC did start we were asked to write down goals. I did not, because for me the MOOC was a kind of expedition into an unknown country. The only goal I had was: Start and go on until it is over. So there is a problem. No no goal, pre-test. How could we possibly measure my learning progress in this course in the right way prescribed by some educational scientists?

“For the bureaucrat (simple domain) all failures are a failure of process”. Dave Cormier. Testing is a (teacher) instrument to observe the progression of a student, and when bureaucrats lay their hands on that fragile instrument they change it. Then testing becomes a means to solve complex problems in a simple way. Bureaucratic testing goes with simple goals and simple tests,  where observing the progress of a student needs complex (fuzzy) goals and measurements. We need to know the narrative of the student to be able to observe change.  Lisa Lane calls it ‘Guiding forces‘   “Bureaucrats” with simple testing will change education into simple teaching.

21 thoughts on “Learning goal and teaching goal #change11

  1. Hello Jaap. The wonder of pingback means I get the chance to provide an early response. This is a really interesting post as you articulate a view which we have come across repeatedly in this MOOC and our study.

    In formal learning, it is relatively easy to align your goals to the course objectives. And depending on the testing regime, there may be a equally clear relationship to the assessment (though this gets complicated by the tensions between reliability and validity of assessment) In informal learning, the relationship between goals and learning is much more complex, the learner may not explicitly set goals, goals may be broad, and may change over time. [There is an interesting paper by Monique Boekaerts where she explores some of the issues surrounding self-regulation in informal learning settings. See section 2 of: Boekaerts, M., and Minnaert, A., (1999) Self-regulation with respect to informal learning. Int J. Ed. Res. 31, 533-544.]

    Although we ask people about goals, and administered the adapted SRL questionnaire as part of the survey we have been conducting (thanks for participating), as researchers we are interested in the whole range of perspectives that MOOC participants have. If you don’t feel setting goals is possible in a MOOC then we want to explore why.

  2. Hello Colin, Thanks for your interesting reply. Pingback gives opportunity for comment, that is why we should use it more often.
    Your research on MOOC is interesting, and I am very curious about the results.
    In the Netherlands and other countries politics wants more testing. It is this kind of testing which is spoiling quality of schools.

  3. Thanks for this lovely post, Jaap. I grew up watching lots of Pooh bear on television and reading some of the books. I too wanted to just go on a mooc expedition without giving too much thought to the destination or pit stops along the way. So far, that has worked very well for me. It seems natural, intuitive, adaptive and less stressful. It doesn’t *fee*l like regular work, thankfully, though there is some hard work involved in committing to participation and reflection.

  4. Can’t help thinking of reading in some ed journal that goal setting is predictive of “learning” as measured by testing. A sort of matching set. Very appropriate for the closed circle of school learning–the tail nearly touching the nose.

    I’ll go with the exploration model where being nimble and adaptable to the unexpected replaces traveling by maps and tour guides. Of course, the unexpected is never a feature of institutional training / education. We attend school to get reliable (and fully tested) information all carefully mapped out. We don’t want any questionable or (heaven forbid) contentious ideas misdirecting our sprint to the degree podium.

    I think I understand why standardization and predictable outcomes would be of interest, or maybe vital to some pursuits. Many times I heard testing used in conversations of accountability in teaching and there’s an argument for assessments when an institution seeks to defend the quality of it credentials. But are there no times or situations where assessments can be dropped in favor of exploring some other method of knowing what someone has learned?

    We don’t have to run all learning ventures like a railroad with schedules, time keepers and elaborate networks of tracks that have done and always will have fixed destinations. Maybe we can let MOOCs be backyard mutts amongst the educational dogs? School gone feral.

    Like brainysmurf I too grew up with the bear of little brain. Maybe as a balance to Howard Reingold’s Crap Detector for measuring suspect discourse we establish a Pooh Detector for alerting us to things curious and interestingly unreliable?


  5. That’s why I think it should be perfectly adequate to say that ones goal for a class is “to learn something”.

    One is bound to learn something. I learned something from every class I ever took, even if it was learning to avoid a class like that one, or how not to teach something, or what I should not assign, or what a great view there was from the classroom.

    Perhaps the idea came out of using the term “learning outcomes” to describe what are really “teaching outcomes” or “class outcomes”, which is really, well, the syllabus.

  6. yes , yes Jaap, I dont writ about goals!
    yes , ” I did not, because for me the MOOC was a kind of expedition into an unknown country.”
    After cck11 I think that ” The only goal I had was: Start and go on until it is over.”

    I love Pooh too!!!

  7. Changing my mind (slightly) to accommodate new input. Education does this to people (sometimes).

    I’ve only read half of an update on the paper Colin referenced but I now have a better appreciation of what the author Monique Boekaerts is after in studying self-directed-learning. One point I found interesting relates to perceived control of the personal learning process:

    “The perception of choice is a critical aspect of self-regulated learning. One can only adapt one’s learning style to a specific task or problem when one is aware that alternative action paths exist.”

    Regulation is a rough and maybe inappropriate word in the context of learning. And I think we are getting tangled in terms here where the use of the word “goal”, for me at least, conjures an image of predetermination and rigidity not intended by Colin or Ms Boekaerts. Maybe a better use would be to recognize that generally people with goals also perceive the future as being influenced by their actions and their choices? That control rests with them as they move through a learning space? Regulation and goal setting as aspects of autonomy in learning.

    Could it be that us MOOCers are so juiced up in the presence of “alternative action paths” we can’t settle on a goal? That following what excites us is something we can’t articulate in a way that neatly distinguishes a “me” before from a “me” after? Or that we are simply educational thrill seekers who dare not say we are having fun because there are rules about having fun in school?

    I think Lisa is on the right track by stating the “to learn something” goal as enough. To me, what I expect to “learn” may have nothing to do with the course content but when the course is over something remains–more often than not, a new question or light shining on the entrance to a new path.

    Wonder if all learning is subject to outcomes? Endings?


  8. Hi Scott, thanks for your answers and comment.
    In formal learning a statement in which a student shows his or her expectations and planning of study is necessary. We could say this is a learning goal. Here we find Ms Boekaerts. This is an autonomous choice of the student to learn what seems important to him.

    In education today (in my country, and other countries) another kind of goals is considered very important. It is the pretest goal in which teacher and school write down what the student is supposed to learn. The test after the period of teaching is based on this goals. This is a bureaucratic instrument to check the quality of the school and the teacher and the student.
    They are very different kind of goals.

    regards Jaap

  9. Tereza, I like the Pooh books, but Piglet is my favorite character. My goal was en is to do a MOOC, because in that way I do discover unknown fields of learning. And in a MOOC we meet very nice people with interesting topics to share.

  10. Lisa, thank you for this new words for gaol. “Outcomes” is a nice word. Do I understand that we only discover the outcomes at the end of learning or class or course? I do love the pelicans of San Diego, been there once. Nice country, big ocean.

  11. Yes, indeed, very big ocean!

    I am actually less enthusiastic now about the word “outcomes”, but that’s what’s used here. Student Learning Outcomes have to be identified as part of the paperwork for every course, and we have to list them in the syllabus. And we’re not allowed to put “to learn something”.

    Outcomes imply something measurable at the time, at the end of the clsss. Of course, we used to call that “grades”.

  12. Hi Jaap,
    We are dealing with the same political mentality in N. America as Europe in regards to schools. Pirates and politicians, always a popular combination.

    A popular theory in our area is the “outcomes” approach that Lisa mentioned (also known as Reverse Design to make it sound more considered). Here we take the preferred end state, then play the necessary teaching interventions backwards, and bingo! we reach a predetermined optimal start point. How would something enabled by perfect knowledge of the desired future go astray? It’s almost miraculous how the science of teaching, properly applied, can reduce causality to a single state of emergence with infinite rewind.

    As long as we stay well back of Carmen Tschofen’s “Zone of Possibilities” all should be safe from the curse of complexity and its evil cousin, uncertainty. In fact, within this little bubble we could imagine an infinite array of paths to within nibbling distance of the boundary to the unknown sufficient to fill a whole life in pursuit completely understanding not much really well.

    Alternately, the whole outcomes thing can be compressed into the declaration of allegiance to the All Powerful Optimal Outcome, plus a small fee for certification. We could all start wherever we damn well please, think anything we want and then come up contrite on the threshold of A.POO.

    I wonder if the end points even matter? Outcomes to me are in fact rational and worthy of aiming towards, but the journey to them with all its variety of paths, surprises and hard work seems the important part. It also feels the more worthy as a shared project to wring as many viewpoints from the journey as there are viewers. This most certainly includes teachers. Ultimately, goal reached or not, learning justifies itself.


  13. Scott- Love this comment (“plus a small fee for certification”– still laughing:-)) I see you’ve also identified what I have been calling the “Creepy Treehouse of Reverse Engineering” in learning design…

  14. So many interesting thoughts… where to start? Delightful terms terms too. Besides the Pooh outcome, there is also the closely related Zorba’s Stone. “Creepy Treehouse” sounds similar to “Toxic Treehouse” that I picked up in an early mooc (plenk 2010 maybe) but not as, well, toxic. Lit folk, like poets, have a weakness for alliteration: I have the Savage Chickens cartoon to prove it.

    I agree with Lisa about any learning being an acceptable goal. Maybe that depends on acceptable to whom and who (or what) is setting goals. Also we don’t have to say that there has to be just one kind of goal or set of goals. Teaching Developmental Writing, Study Skills, ESL and GED students with specific goals often do better than the ones with vague, open ended ones (that to be honest were more about “succeeding” than learning). Some learners want and need more structure. Some of us that same structure just annoys. Making a distinction between short, medium and long term goals/outcomes can help too.

    There is also a huge difference between learners setting goals and having goals set for them.

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