I believe learning is something like a jigsaw puzzle. Each person has an individual puzzle that they have to put together to figure out their own personal learning picture. The teacher’s job is to help students figure out how to put their puzzle together, and to encourage them to explore every corner and every piece of that puzzle.
I think at the core of learning, we have to interact with someone. Whether it’s a dialog with a teacher, listening to a lecture, or a group discussion, we need to learn in a context of interaction. Again that is why I like to think of the jigsaw puzzle – the inter-locking pieces symbolizing how we need to interact with others. So it is also up to teachers (and parents) to teach us how to properly interlock those pieces. We can’t force the pieces to go together where they aren’t designed to go, but we can’t just leave them hanging by themselves.
Also, I think that we need to realize that the puzzle may (and probably will) change and rearrange as we get older. For example, hands-on activities may be the main learning interest for someone while they are younger, but as they get older, they may find that they are more interested in visual stimulus. So they would have to re-arrange their puzzle as their interests change.
I also believe that at any time people can add pieces to their puzzle. In fact, we may work diligently on the puzzle our entire lives and never quite finish it. Hopefully that is true, because I never want to get to a place that I have stopped learning new things about myself.
From a practical perspective, I design and teach courses from a “customizable pathways” perspective. Because every learner is different, I feel that I need to open up a space for learners to create their own customized learning experience, which I refer to as “self-mapped learning pathways.” I accomplish this by creating two options in any given course. One option is the standard pathway that I dictate as the instructor: learners can follow this pathway and they can be assured they will learn the concepts. The other option is a less-structured self-determined play area where learners can look at the topic from other contexts or skill levels. Neither option is set in stone: each learner can jump back and forth from either one as they need in order to create their own custom pathway through the course.
I visualize this in two ways: one is for the more artistic types. I see customizable pathways as a botanical garden where I have created a walkway through the garden that anyone can follow to learn about the garden. But people walking through the garden are free to step off the walkway and explore what they want to off in any direction. And they can go back to walkway at any moment they choose.
The other way to visualize customizable pathways is through games… because I do also see this design methodology as a game. In this sense, I have created a story line that new gamers may wish to follow to “win” the game. However, I have also surrounded this narrative story line with free play zones or sandboxes that allow players to build their own versions of the narrative or game elements to play in. The now defunct Disney Infinity system comes to mind for those that are familiar with how many of its game sets have a story to follow, but they often allow you to go off the story at any moment.
For a fuller explanation of the customizable pathways learning theory, you can read my original blog post on the idea, read a follow up post on how to practically map a learning pathway, listen to another instructor describe it better than I can, or read my dissertation on the topic.
In a general sense, I place several concepts into my overall educational philosophy, including connectivism, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, learning and teaching as communicative actions theory, and metamodernism. For a full explanation of my educational philosophy, you can read my paper Social Constructivism Expanded: A Personal Theory of Online Learning.