What happened to the learning paradigm?

I’ll admit that I haven’t performed a thorough review of the research literature on this topic, but this question arises from my observation as a higher education administrator. It has been 23 years since Barr and Tagg (1995) published From Teaching to Learning, yet how much has changed in higher education? We have started using the language. “Teaching” and “education” have been replaced with “learning”. Many faculty and HEIs have established learning outcomes throughout the curriculum and measure them to some extent, although this is likely due to pressure from accrediting bodies, not a true paradigm shift within the education system itself. However, how often is data used to actually improve student learning? Furthermore, how rigorous is the data analyzed? How often is the research literature used to verify practice?

In 1995, Barr and Tagg recognized a paradigm shift. Has it continued? In many instances, students are still treated as knowledge-absorbing sponges, or clay to be molded, rather than the complex learners they are. As technology continually changes, and as a new generation enter HEIs, is it not important to demonstrate—not only the learning of knowledge, skills, and dispositions within a student’s domain—but a broader and more conceptual understanding of the environment and context of their studies? This is often an outcome throughout the general education curriculum in HEIs, but how is this measured? How are we proving this? It is my opinion that this is the most crucial move toward a true learning paradigm. Yet, HEIs still cling to policies in the instruction paradigm. In many cases, faculty are still judged by their teaching and lecture organization, not whether their students are learning. Students are graduating unprepared for a changing workforce and society, taught to apply knowledge, but not taught to learn when the environment changes. Lifelong learning is paramount in the evolving learning paradigm. 

This isn’t a criticism of HEIs, administrators, or faculty. I know there are many barriers to this problem, including public policy, funding, and a general lack of resources. Change is difficult and slow in higher education. However, it is imperative that the learning paradigm continue and evolve if HEIs are going to meet the challenges of the future.

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