published November 20, 2013

Education Week Commentary 'Learning: A Holistic View' - An Interview with the Author, Alan Friedman

Hailey Chenevert, NCSCE

Dr. Alan Friedman, museum consultant and SENCER-ISE Project Director, joined the NCSCE community amid discussions of how SENCER could expand into the informal science education (ISE) realm.

Earlier this fall, Education Week published (online on September 9, 2013; in print on September 11, 2013) a commentary written by Alan called Learning: A Holistic View. In his commentary, Alan discusses the need to treat learning as an "interdependent ecology" and support "learning across life," among other things. These concepts are not foreign to NCSCE, and are thoroughly embraced by one the Center's newest initiatives, SENCER-ISE. SENCER-ISE supports ten partnerships between higher education and ISE institutions to nurture and learn from these innovative collaborations as they develop and maintain civically minded projects.

To dig deeper into these ideas on educational reform and explore their relationship to NCSCE, I posed a few questions to Alan about his commentary. To read Alan's full commentary, Learning: A Holistic View, on the Education Week website, click here.

What made you decide to write this commentary?
Friedman: This summer the Noyce Foundation (on whose Board I serve) was editing a revised mission statement. That's an exercise in the life of every organization that lets everyone take a step back from everyday concerns to think about what we really believe, and to consider how we can realize our beliefs. For me, one aspect of education that the Foundation supports which is still under appreciated in the world is how much of what we learn takes place outside of those precious hours we formally think of as learning time, which are mostly within the walls of classrooms. We don't pay nearly enough attention to the 95% of our waking lives when we are not in classrooms, but we are learning like crazy, nonetheless. So the commentary was my attempt to issue a wake-up call, inviting everyone to sit up and notice that if education matters to us, we should all pay much more attention to education that is happening all around us, even when we are not in classrooms and don't think about being engaged in learning.

You write about a history of a "compartmentalized system of learning," and how has this approach to learning impacted our educational system. How do you believe a "holistic view of learning" will impact educational reform?

It is certainly convenient, for logistics, accountability, and calendar purposes, to think about learning as something that happens only when we consciously sit down in a room and tell ourselves, yes, now I am learning (or teaching). The rest of the time we are at work, at play, in transport, or just gazing at a sunset, a plant, a bird or another human being. But this compartmentalization of learning, working, playing, moving, or contemplating can blind us to the complexity of learning, which doesn't turn on and off, but happens everywhere, all the time. What we do learn from the classroom, and especially what parts of that learning are internalized, retained, and used, is related to what we experience in the rest of life. So to improve education, one very useful way of thinking is to figure out just how all learning interacts, and use that understanding to take advantage of what we do both inside and outside the classroom. Education reform can and should involve this broader look at learning, so that we can figure out what to do about such problems as "summer learning loss" among K-12 students. The summer should be an opportunity to lock-in what we learned the other seasons, not an excuse to forget that learning. But if education reformers keep thinking that they need only attend to what happens in the classroom, we will miss great opportunities.

How can those who are implementing the Next Generation of Science Standards learn from the SENCER framework of STEM learning through complex civic issues?
The "Core Disciplinary Ideas" in NGSS are not that different from the lists of what everyone should know and be able to do that we have long had in formal education. But what is new and wonderful in NGSS are the "Science and Engineering Practices" and "Cross-Cutting Concepts." By their very nature, the Practices and the Concepts are all around us, and not just when we sit down to master one of the core ideas. So we can advance our learning agenda using the Practices and Concepts in our pursuit of whatever intrigues us, including our engagement with those civic issues which matter most deeply to each of us, our families, and our friends. SENCER, and adaptations of its key framework beyond the college campus, provides a terrific guide to how to attack those issues and achieve NGSS learning goals at the same time. We don't have to choose between learning and doing; indeed they are inseparable in the realms of SENCER and NGSS.

As Project Director for SENCER-ISE, how do you see the ten partnerships supported through this initiative working toward this goal of a "holistic view of learning"? Are there any projects that stand out to you as exemplifying the "whole-community approach" to STEM learning?
SENCER-ISE brings together the realms of formal and informal education and offers them a continuous invitation to bridge the gaps between these two views of how, where, and when learning happens. In one partnership the two institutions are 3000 miles apart, a direct challenge to the notion that we learn in the space of classrooms where the learners and teachers are all within 20 feet of each other whenever key learning is to happen. In many SENCER-ISE partnerships, many levels of education are working together, including college faculty, college students, K-12 students, and informal science educators in museums or nature centers. All of these examples break the model of compartmentalized learning, and allow us to see what we can accomplish when we attempt to facilitate learning in a more boundary free realm. I hope and expect that the lessons we learn from the 10 SENCER-ISE partnerships, with their great variety, will provide guidance and inspiration for others who see learning as a joyous, truly life-broad and life-long pursuit.