Learned Helplessness

Peter Kent

Peter Kent

There is a Seymour Papert quote that goes something like: “What you ought to be learning at school is that you don’t need to be taught in order to learn”.

I often wonder how many teachers realize the truth behind this quote. I wonder how many teachers live the truth behind this quote.

Learned Helplessness

A mindset that insists on professional development before integrating technology is flawed. It is not how we were born. As children we all learnt to play with our toys, draw with our crayons, and as we learnt we made mistakes. We did this through experimentation. It is how we were born to acquire skills, to learn. How is it now that so many adults are reduced to tears when confronted by an unfamiliar technology? We have learned to become helpless; most likely by playing the traditional game of ‘school’. I expect not quite what Papert was after.

Sequence Learning

If you think that ‘Learned Helplessness’ is a pervasive culture within the teachers at your school then there is a problem. The rate new technologies are being developed is increasing and it is impossible to develop professional development courses to keep pace. If waiting for the PD is the culture of teachers within a school, if teachers have learnt to be helpless, unconsciously it may be how they teach their students. From experience, the best way to change culture is by being explicit; by making obvious what is unconscious.

In my book Learning with ICT, I outline a sequence for how students should ‘learn and share’ ICT skills (see below). By getting students, and through them teachers, to identify and place their strategies for acquiring ICT skills on a simple continuum, they are able to see themselves in a continuum. One from which it becomes easier for them to take the next step in their learning, to change their culture, and become confident and self-reliant learners in using ICT (Information, Communication, and Technology) tools.

Sequence of strategies to learn and share ICT skills:

Strategy

Learning ICT skills

Sharing ICT skills

Direct modelling

Students acquire new ICT skills through direct modelling, usually by a teacher, but also from another student. Students may not be able to articulate why they need the skill. Students have the capacity to demonstrate other students how to undertake an ICT task.

Asking for Assistance

Students are able to identify  the ICT task they are trying to undertake and then specifically ask for assistance Students are able to verbalise instructions to others about how to undertake an ICT task.

Developmental Experimentation

By drawing on previous experiences with technology students are able to browse and ‘wonder about’ parts of a software package and hardware devices with which they are unfamiliar. Through a process of experimentation or ‘having a go’ students gain new ICT skills and a level of familiarity with the technology. Students are able to work within a small group to experiment with unfamiliar software and hardware devices.

Accessing help files / online resources

Students are able to purposefully use the Help associated with software programs and searching for online technical documentation and advice relating to specific hardware. Students are able to create, or add to ICT documentation. Students are able to respond clearly and succinctly to ICT related questions that have been posted online.

About the Author:

Peter Kent is Head of Strategy and Operations – ANZ at Promethean, Canberra Australia. Kent’s education career included primary school principal and vice principal positions. He is the author of numerous education texts and articles. Peter was awarded The Australian Government Endeavour Award in 2010, an International Competitive Merit Based Award that seeks to recognize individuals that provide significant international leadership within their chosen field. The award was conferred based on his significant contribution and leadership with regards to the use of technology to enhance education. In that year, he was the only recipient from the field of Education. Peter is a regular contributor to Connect Learning Today.

Peter Kent

Peter Kent is Head of Strategy and Operations – ANZ at Promethean, Canberra Australia. Kent’s education career included primary school principal and vice principal positions. He is the author of numerous education texts and articles. Peter was awarded The Australian Government Endeavour Award in 2010, an International Competitive Merit Based Award that seeks to recognize individuals that provide significant international leadership within their chosen field. The award was conferred based on his significant contribution and leadership with regards to the use of technology to enhance education. In that year, he was the only recipient from the field of Education. Peter is a regular contributor to Connect Learning Today.
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