The Chinese have a proverb that definitely applies to teaching. It goes like this: "Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand." As a teacher—though I could easily interchange this term with facilitator or guide—I believe real learning happens in action.
This thought isn't totally new. Education reformer Dr. Roger Schank believes the educational system is fundamentally flawed and suggests (and I paraphrase) that just as life requires us to do more than to know, it makes more sense teaching students how to learn by doing than mere theory alone. In other words, if we think back to when we first learned how to ride a bike, the only way to really "know" was to get on the thing, fall off a dozen times and eventually succeed in staying on.
Two weeks ago, I lead a group of graduate journalism students at the University of Groningen as they created an online magazine. Or really, after setting it up—the magazine's theme, roles, deadlines and expectations (in terms of multimedia)—I allowed my students to lead the entire project themselves. They created a magazine from scratch, an exciting creative process to be involved in, but equally, to observe.
Neuroscience research shows us that the dendrites of our brain cells only grow when the brain is actively engaged and the neuron-networks formed in our brains only stay connected when they are used repeatedly. Asking students to become independent, self-motivated and take on active learning roles is the point of education, methinks. And our Internet age only underscores this—we've entered a new age in which collaboration, working together and yet working independently, are key. People are free to explore their ideas.
My students learned by doing. I've learned that the best kind of learning takes place when I take the back seat and let them drive...