Change (and learning)

Education is fundamentally about change—both in terms of tiny incremental changes in students’ understanding, and sometimes even huge shifts in their self-concept and worldview. As Leo Buscaglia points out,

“Change is the end result of all true learning.”

Biggs (2003) affirms this view, arguing that:

“As we learn, our concepts of phenomena change, and we see the world differently. The acquisition of information itself does not bring about such change, but the way we structure that information and think with it does.

Thus, education is about conceptual change, not just the acquisition of information. (p. 13).”

American psychologist Carl Rogers in his book Freedom to Learn (1983) argues that education must be predicated on an understanding that knowledge in constantly in a state of transition, stating:

We are, in my view, faced with an entirely new situation in education where the goal of education, if we are to survive, is the facilitation of change and learning. The only man who is educated is the man who has learned how to adapt and change; the man who has realized that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a basis for security. Changingness, reliance on process rather than upon static knowledge, is the only thing that makes any sense as a goal for education in the modern world (p.104).

But of course, change can be confronting for students. As Rogers (1969) outlines in his list of principles of learning:

“Learning which involves a change in self-organization in the perception of oneself is threatening and tends to be resisted.”

However, the student's resilience and ability to adapt to shifting and evolving states of knowledge is cruical. As Rogers proposes in the last of his ten principles:

“The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and to incorporate into oneself the process of change.”

Further Reading

Rogers, C. R. (1983). Freedom to Learn for the 80s. Columbus, OH Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.


Communities of practice

Communities of practice involves networks of people all motivated by a common interest, or professional concern.

Originally proposed by Lave and Wenger in the early 90s, communities of practice acknowledges that learning is always situated within social contexts. As Wenger-Trayner (2015) explain:

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

Furthermore, they explain:

“Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.”

Further Reading

Wenger-Trayner E & Wenger-Trayner B, 2015, Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/ [26 August 2018]


Constructive Alignment

Constructive alignment is a theory of educational design that seeks to ensure that the intended learning outcomes, learning activities, assessments and feedback all work togther to enhance the effectiveness of the leaners’ attainment of knowledge and skills.

Proposed by Biggs (2003), constructive alignment has two dimensions. The constructive dimension refers to how students draw meaning from the learning activities they engage in. “Meaning is not something imparted or transmitted from teacher to learner,” Biggs explains, “but is something learners have to create for themselves.”


Eating (as a metaphor for learning)

Biggs (2003), while discussing the need for ‘constructive alignment’ when developing curricula, notes the common occurrence of metaphors in English that make a connection between eating and learning.  The most common of these is the negative association about ‘spoon feeding’ students. Biggs writes:

“Spoon feeding, like the other level one metaphors with their curious affinity to metabolic processes – ‘regurgitating’, ‘chewing it over’, ‘stuffing them with facts’, ‘ramming down their throats’, ‘getting your teeth into’–puts a stranglehold on the student’s cognitive processes. Spoon feeding does the work for the students, so that they have little left to do but obediently swallow.” (p. 27)

To counter this, Biggs recommends that more emphasis should be put on what the student does rather than what the teacher does, meaning a greater emphasis should be put on activities where the student is actively engaged in the learning process.

However, it’s interesting to explore how prevalent eating metaphors are in an education setting. Getting students to ‘ruminate’ on things is not a bad idea. Ideas themselves can be ‘distasteful’ just as some activities cannot be some student’s ‘cup of tea.’ Things can be ‘easy as pie,’ and then of course there’s the old proverb: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’

Francis Bacon, the English philosopher, scientist and author, wrote in his essay “Of Studies” makes a great comparison between reading and eating:

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

The prevalence of metaphors about eating is most likely has something to do with the infantile origins of the student-teacher relationship, echoing its child-parent origins. This is presumably why ‘spoon feeding’ has such a negative connotation. It implies total helplessness and passivity on the part of the student.

Further Reading

Biggs, JB 2011, Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does, 2nd edn, McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead (UK).


Fire (education as ‘lighting a fire’)

The famous quotation, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,’ is attributed to a few people, most often W. B. Yeats, sometimes Socrates. According Quote Investigator, the quote comes from the Greek biographer and essayist, Plutarch.

Plutarch’s version varies slightly compared to the quote attributed to Yeats. It appeared in Plutarch’s essay, “On Listening,” which is worth quoting at length:

“We must encourage those lazy ones, however—once they have grasped the basic points—to interconnect everything else on their own, to use memory to guide original thinking, and to accept what someone else says as a starting point, a seed to be nourished and grown.

For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting—no more—and then it motivates one towards originality and instils the desire for truth.

Suppose someone were to go an ask his neighbours for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his innate flame, his own intellect, but is happy to sit entranced by the lecture, and the words trigger only associative thinking and bring, as it were, only a flush to his cheeks and a glow to his limbs’ but he has not dispelled or dispersed, in the warm light of philosophy, the internal dank gloom if his mind.”

According to  that sense of 'lighting a fire' should be the

"Too few of our teacher training programs demonstrate what it is like to teach well, to assess well, or to serve as an effective role model. Most teachers of college or graduate students see their job as transmitting the inert knowledge of their discipline.

While experts need to have some of this inert knowledge, class room teachers need to know how to coach and encourage their students, so that students can gain various literacies, come to love knowledge, know how to learn, and know how to assess their own growth.

Unless candidate teachers have had such experiences in their own education, it is unreasonable to expect them to display these virtues to their students."



Flagging involves making the rationale behind key teaching choices explicit. This can include making students aware why particular content has been included or excluded, the nature and timing of assessments, why particular activities have been chosen and even particular strategies of delivery.

As Haynes et al. (2012) explain:

“Flagging is explaining what you are doing, and why.

Teachers often introduce an activity or the next stage of a session without flagging it, assuming either that students already know what it is they are supposed to do and what they are supposed to get out of it, or that students don’t need to know: all they have to do is follow instructions. But people’s ability to undertake tasks depends crucially on their understanding of the task – and not  just their understanding of what the task is, but of why it is a sensible or useful thing to do.” (p. 7)

Further Reading

Haynes, Anthony. & Habeshaw, Sue., 2012. 53 Interesting things to do in your lectures: Tips and strategies for really effective lectures and presentations, United Kingdom: Professional and Higher Partnership.



Being genuine with students has an important pedagogical function. Contained with a teacher’s real feelings of boredom, interest and surprise are some valuable cues for students to modify their behaviour and deepen their understanding.

As Carl Rogers explains:

“Perhaps the most basic of these essential attitudes is realness or genuineness. When the facilitator is a real person being what he is, entering into a relationship with the learner without presenting a front or facade, he is much more likely to be effective. This means that the feelings which he is experiencing are available to him, available to his awareness, that he is able to live these feelings, be them, and able to communicate them if appropriate. It means that he comes into a direct personal encounter with the learner, meeting him on a person-to-person basis. It means that he is being himself, not denying himself.

Seen from this point of view it is suggested that the teacher can be a real person in his relationship with his students. He can be enthusiastic, he can be bored, he can be interested in students, he can be angry, he can be sensitive and sympathetic.

Because he accepts these feelings as his own, he has no need to impose them on his students. He can like or dislike a student product without implying that it is objectively good or bad or that the student is good or bad. He is simply expressing a feeling for the product, a feeling that exists within himself. Thus, he is a person to his students, not a faceless embodiment of a curricular requirement,  nor a sterile tube through which knowledge is passed from one generation to another” (p. 106) . 


Self-initiated learning

As one of his ten principles of learning, Rogers (1969) argues that:

“Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner feeling as well as intellect is the most lasting and pervasive.”

Spoon feeding

‘Spoon feeding’ is a common trope in education indicating a poor learning environment where students are taught in the same way one feeds a baby—one mouthful at a time with no effort on the part of the baby.

As E.M. Forster once said,

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”



Scott (2005) in response to a large scale survey of students found that:

“If group work is to be effective, students will need to be alerted explicitly to what makes for productive collaboration in order for there to be careful management of expectations around group assessment and for there to be specific strategies for managing ‘freeloaders’, along with specific advice on how to make communication between group members efficient and effective.” (45)