Learner Autonomy · Teaching & Learning

Secondary Learning Objectives, Part III

Why Secondary Learning Objectives Might Be More Important than Primary Learning Objectives

Lately, I have been writing about Secondary Learning Objectives. In my last post, I wrote about some examples and why they are an important element of the students’ classroom experience.

In fact, I consider it quite possible that Secondary Learning Objectives are becoming, if they are not already, more important than Primary Learning Objectives. There are a number of factors that have brought me to this conclusion, but underlying them all are technology and the professional landscape.

Secondary Learning Objectives are those things that students can learn from a lesson and skills that they can develop that are not necessarily written explicitly into a lesson plan. Things like cooperation, leadership, autonomy, etc.. While Primary Learning Objectives are specific to each subject and indeed each teacher, Secondary Learning Objectives are universal, by which I mean they are shared across all subjects and throughout the faculty. They are a common goal that all teachers in an institution are implicitly working towards.

While it is almost impossible to apply standardised tests and numerical scoring systems to these skills—and nor should we try—I believe that developing these secondary learning objectives, which largely amount to what we might call life skills, should in fact be the teacher’s true priority, even above achieving high grades in the individual subject.

As technology advances, a number of things are happening to traditional education. One notable change to the educational landscape is that it is now easier than ever for individuals to access learning resources at any time, at any place and at any age, meaning that it is now very feasible for somebody to truly be a lifelong learner simply by owning a smart phone.

Access to extra-curricular learning has always existed in a number of formats, not least of which the public library. However, in the past, accessing these has always required a certain amount of concerted effort, an effort that has consistently proven prohibitive to generation after generation of students. With the internet though, and especially with its integration into all manner of everyday technology, including mobile phones, televisions and even watches, people are in its presence at all times and can access it within moments, often without even standing up.

What’s more, students enjoy it. They spend hours and hours at a time online without even being instructed. Of course, that time might not always be dedicated to the most noble of materials and is certainly not entirely educational, but even so, young people are spending far more time reading now than I believe they ever have before, whether it’s Tweets, Facebook updates, blog posts, news articles, academic journals, and an endless list of other materials.

With this in mind, much of what is taught formally in schools is readily available to students outside of school. And not just while they are students. With all of this internet technology to hand, students can graduate from school into the workplace and go on learning for the rest of their lives, reading articles during their lunch break, listening to podcasts on their commute, downloading countless free e-books.

It is also worth noting that over time, with technological and scientific advancements as well as changes in societies and global politics, what we teach and learn in school is constantly changing. What you learn in school as a student today may not hold true 10 or 20 years after graduating. When that time comes, only you will be able to find the right information and update your knowledge. Fortunately for you, there is increasingly bountiful material available for you to do this. However, if you are not taught effectively how to do this, then you will be left behind the moment you leave school.

For this reason, it is probably more important that we focus our energy as teachers on developing the students’ autonomous learning skills than it is on actually teaching them the facts and figures that they can find elsewhere. As true as it is there there is a seemingly infinite amount of information available, by no means is it all equally reliable. Just identifying the good, true and reliable information from the bad requires a skill set all of its own. At this stage, against this information media landscape, it is perhaps more important that we develop these skills than teach the information.

It’s not just learning to learn that’s important. There are countless other secondary skills, some of which I outlined in my last article, that students will find eternally useful, long after the facts and figures have changed and updated and the textbooks have been reprinted.

Learning good leadership skills is far more important than learning textbook systems of management and economics, if those things are constantly shifting. Learning how to collaborate and pool strengths and resources with others is far more valuable than trying to know everything about everything all by yourself, especially when that knowledge has a shelf life.

As teachers, it is essential we realise this, because the professional landscape is changing rapidly, and these skills are becoming basic requirements for the vast majority of workers now, not just the elite few in upper management positions. Companies increasingly expect their employees effectively to be their own managers, to know what to do from one minute to the next without awaiting instructions every step of the way.

An increasing percentage of employees need to be dynamic and adaptable, because there are ever fewer jobs that require repetition, performing the same function from clocking in to clocking out. More and more people are finding that they encounter different situations daily and that they have to find solutions to new problems on a regular basis.

Office layouts are even changing, so that it is now far less common to find yourself sitting in a booth with just yourself and a computer. Many people now work in offices where they don’t even have a computer and an assigned desk; they bring a laptop and sit wherever is the most conducive to their productivity. This often includes sitting in groups with co-workers and collaborating on a project to complete it more effectively and efficiently that one person could alone.

These are the things we need to be preparing our students for. They can look up facts and figures when the time comes that they need to, provided we have shown them how to effectively do so. But these other skills can not be looked up online. They cannot be read in a blog or even watched on a Youtube video. They require guidance and practice, and the earlier we give our students the opportunity to develop these skills, the better.

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