Learning IN SCHOOL and Learning IN THE WORLD: What’s the Difference? | Will Richardson | 3 Min Read

New rule: Whenever we talk about learning, we should distinguish between learning in the real world and learning IN SCHOOL.

For example, the work of John Hattie is cited daily as research that can help us improve student learning. All good, as long as we remember that his research is about improving learning IN SCHOOL as measured by very narrow, quantitative indicators.

That’s an important distinction because the reality is that IN SCHOOL we’re trying to get kids to learn things that they haven’t chosen to learn, that they’re not always interested in learning, that they see little reason for learning when it comes to real-life application, and that they forget much if not most of it as they move through their lives.

So when we read things like “teaching is the most important factor impacting student learning” IN SCHOOL, that doesn’t necessarily mean that teaching is the most important factor impacting learning in the world. In fact, teaching in the traditional sense in many ways inhibits the deep, powerful learning that we want all kids to experience.

In the real world, learning is more exploratory. It’s motivated by personal inquiry and interest. It weaves and winds through many different subjects at a time, and engages many potential “teachers” whom we seek out for their individual expertise or experience. 

IN SCHOOL, the conditions are much different. Usually, students have little in the way of freedom, agency, or choice in terms of what to learn, how to learn it, or who to learn it with. Assessments are standard for the most part; everyone is striving to get over the same bar. And the final say in any disputes is almost always the teacher. 

That’s not a knock on teachers. It’s a knock on a system that bridles teachers and enures them to a very traditional conception of what the role of a teacher really entails, and lives a very narrow definition of what learning is. It’s a system that in general doesn’t promote the conditions that we all know learning requires in order to stick. 

Most professional development that we offer to teachers is about learning IN SCHOOL. It’s focused on how we can get “better” at delivering the curriculum and meeting our mandates and expectations. And it’s easy to see why. We need to seek efficiency if we are to churn all of these kids through the system.


Register Now
You may use your member school or partner discount code !!!

Will Richardson

A former public school educator of 22 years, Will Richardson has spent the past 15 years developing an international reputation as a leading thinker and writer about the intersection of social online learning networks, education, and systemic change. Most recently, Will is a co-founder of The Big Questions Institute which was created to help educators use “fearless inquiry” to make sense of this complex moment and an uncertain future. In 2017, Will was named one of 100 global “Changemakers in Education” by the Finnish site HundrED, and was named one of the Top 5 “Edupreneurs to Follow” by Forbes. He has given keynote speeches, lead breakout sessions, and provided coaching services in over 30 countries on 6 continents. He has also authored six books, and given TEDx Talks in New York, Melbourne, and Vancouver.