Enhancing Learning and Thinking

By Robert F. Mulcahy; Robert H. Short et al. | Go to book overview

4
Enhancing Learning in the Context of School

John B. Biggs


GOOD LEARNING: IDEAL AND INSTITUTIONAL

While it is important to enhance motivation and/or higher-order cognitive processing by special interventions, it is even more desirable to maximize the quality of learning in its traditional ecology, the school. In this chapter, we will focus on how far it is possible to improve learning in existing learning institutions. There are two problems. The first is knowing what is holding back the quality of learning and what is likely to enhance it. The second, and more difficult, is changing reality in the school so that the inhibitors of learning quality are removed, and what promotes quality is made more salient.

The first, drearily familiar, point to be made is that one of the most reliable findings in educational research is that innovations, in the end, often achieve no better results than the traditional practices they replace: the more things change, the more they remain the same ( Sarason, 1971). Whatever the research and developmental evidence for the worth of a practice, the practice, once officially installed, merges indistinctly with the general institutional profile, and things tend to go on much as before. Are schools then operating at their optimal functional level? If change is so difficult, must we settle for what we currently have? If that is so, exotic intervention would appear to be the best hope for improved learning.

Schools are not operating at their functional best, educationally speaking. There is too much evidence to suggest that people can learn far more effectively than they typically do in most public schools. Further, change does occur; there is little doubt that schools have changed in the last fifty years, and

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