ERIC Identifier: ED414961 Publication Date: 1997-11-00
Author: Schuyler, Gwyer Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
A Paradigm Shift from Instruction to Learning. ERIC Digest.
In the hearts of dedicated education professionals is the belief that the
primary goal of education is student achievement. However obvious this may seem,
some believe that the goal of student learning has become incongruent with the
current way higher education institutions function. A new paradigm of learning
has been proposed and discussed largely among community college professionals.
While there are vocal supporters of the concept of the "learning paradigm,"
some critics question whether it is actually a paradigm at all. Perhaps the
recommended changes could instead be simply described as reforms of the current
system that lead to a greater institutional focus on student learning outcomes.
Nonetheless, community college professionals interested in student learning may
be informed by these recommendations, whether or not they comprise a paradigm
shift. This Digest will review the arguments and recommendations of supporters
of the learning paradigm.
A NEW PARADIGM OF STUDENT LEARNING
to consider student outcomes, to improve student assessment, and to refocus
institutional missions onto student learning are gaining prominence. Some see
these changes as signs of a potentially larger systemic shift in paradigms, away
from what has been labeled the "instruction paradigm" toward the "learning
paradigm" (Barr & Tagg, 1995, p. 13). Paradigm shifts occur when
"difficulties or anomalies begin to appear in the functioning of the existing
paradigm which cannot be handled adequately" and when there exists "an
alternative paradigm that will account for all that the original paradigm
accounts for...and [that] offers real hope for solving the major difficulties
facing the current paradigm" (Barr, 1995). Problems under the existing paradigm
have been highlighted by a wave of criticism beginning in the 1980s. One such
critique by the Wingspread Group identified the main issue confronting higher
education as the mismatch between what American society needs and what it is
receiving from the higher education system. To keep up with the acceleration of
change in new information and technology, the Wingspread Group recommended that
American workers be educated to levels that maximize their productivity. "In
short, we need to educate more people, educate them to far higher standards, and
do it as effectively and efficiently as possible" (Wingspread Group, 1993, p.
Advocates of change see the present structures as inadequate to meet changes
in work, knowledge, and citizenship while serving a greater number of students
with diverse backgrounds and educational objectives. Under the current system,
many students are "weeded out" of higher education, and of those who do graduate
many are lacking important skills (Wingspread Group, 1993). The learning
paradigm has been proposed as a framework or a set of principles enabling these
problems to be solved.
The learning paradigm is more than incremental changes in an institution's
organizational procedure or priorities. Rather, it involves a holistic and
system-wide change away from the instruction paradigm and the organizational
structures that reflect it. The purpose of the learning paradigm is to "place
learning first in every policy, program, and practice in higher education by
overhauling the traditional architecture of education" (O'Banion, 1995-1996, p.
22). This shift in perspective requires numerous changes:
Judgment of institutional success on the quality of student learning;
Shared responsibility in student learning between the college and the student;
A seamless system of delivery, "providing access to educational services for
learners as they need them, when they need them, and wherever they need them"
(Wingspread Group, 1993, p. 19);
The vision of the institution itself as a learner in that over time, "it
continuously learns how to produce more learning with each graduating class,
each entering student" (Barr & Tagg, 1995, p. 14);
An institution that "creates environments and experiences that bring students to
discover and construct knowledge for themselves" instead of one that merely
transfers knowledge from faculty to student (Barr & Tagg, 1995, p. 15);
The continual identification, development, testing, implementation, and
assessment of a range of effective learning technologies including new
applications of computer and information technology;
Faculty whose primary responsibility is the design of learning methods and
environments, with less emphasis on the traditional responsibility of
instruction especially in the form of lecturing;
Cross-disciplinary or nondisciplinary teams of specialists who work
collaboratively to devise programs to increase student competency;
Education that is tailored to the needs of individual students;
Education that involves "the mastery of functional, knowledge-based intellectual
frameworks rather than the short-term retention of fractionated contextual cues"
(Barr & Tagg, 1995, p. 22); and
An organizational climate that fosters the belief that student learning is the
central objective of all employees of a college--no matter if they are faculty
members, financial officers, or administrative assistants.
Many of the changes listed above have been
implemented in the past and are, indeed, in place today. However, whether the
integrative and system-wide transformation of higher education to the learning
paradigm will occur is questionable since many of the traditional administrative
and instructional structures are steadfast and deeply entrenched. Dominant
paradigms are not easily changed due to the fact that teachers and
administrators have been trained and students have been schooled within the old
paradigm (Boggs, 1995-1996).
O'Banion (1996) suggests that the "key challenge for those who wish to launch
learning colleges is the redesign of the current learning environment inherited
from an earlier agricultural and industrial society--an environment that is time
bound, place bound, efficiency bound, and role bound" (p. 1). To wholly
implement a learning-driven system, the entire structure would require reform,
including: the measurement of units of learning based on knowledge instead of
time spent in class; the reconceptualization of instruction beyond the
traditional classroom model; the redirection of administration away from issues
of resources and reputation and toward issues of student success; and the
redefining of the very concept of efficiency and production itself in higher
education from cost per hour of instruction to cost per unit of learning.
WILL A SYSTEM-WIDE PARADIGM SHIFT OCCUR?
In spite of the
challenges that this shift undoubtedly represents, there is a vocal and active
group of supporters of the learning paradigm. For example, promoters of
instructional and computer technology are advocates of reform; they are aware of
how these innovations stand to play an integral role in the curriculum and
pedagogy under the learning paradigm. The private sector of the technology
industry recognizes the opportunity that the learning paradigm would present for
the incorporation of innovative instructional technologies. Partnerships between
the technology industry and community college associations are being forged to
address the subject of technological change as a catalyst for learning (Johnson & Lobello, 1996). If advocates continue to promote these reform efforts and
colleges see the need to change their methods of instruction and learning, it is
more probable that new approaches to teaching and learning such as those
described in this Digest will be implemented.
Barr, R. B. (1995). From teaching to learning: A
new reality for community colleges. Leadership Abstracts. Mission Viejo, CA:
League for Innovation in the Community College, 8 (3).
Barr, R. B. & Tagg, J. (1995, November/December). From teaching to
learning--a new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change Magazine, 27 (6):
Boggs, G. E. (1995-1996, Dec./Jan.). The learning paradigm. Community College
Journal, 66 (3):24-27.
Johnson, L. & Lobello, S. T. (eds). (1996). The 21st century community
college: technology and the new learning paradigm. Mission Viejo, CA: League for
Innovation in the Community College. (ED 399 976)
O'Banion, T. (1997). A learning college for the 21st century. Phoenix, AZ:
American Association of Community Colleges and Oryx Press.
O'Banion, T. (1996, August). Learning communities, learning organizations,
and learning colleges. Leadership Abstracts. Mission Viejo, CA: League for
Innovation in the Community College, 9(8).
Wingspread Group on Higher Education. (1993). An American imperative: higher
expectations for higher education. Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation, Inc. (ED
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