Homage to Deep Integrative Learning

Mapping Brain Circuits

For years I have watched reform play out in higher education and PreK-12, both within each respective system, and through efforts to more seamlessly marry the two.

While well intentioned, these initiatives have been woefully doomed, inherently limited by the very learning goals they employ.

For those who try to follow my blog, you may sense the coming of a familiar refrain. Namely, it is only through the pursuit of sufficiently powerful goals that we can extricate ourselves from the proverbial weeds that continue to pull us down. And unfortunately, in the world of education, and certainly PreK-16 collaboration, the goals that we have thus far followed have been underwhelming at best. Workforce readiness, critical thinking, and even college preparation, while all important constructs, are insufficiently powerful to actualize the latent potential of our systems, or their respective students.

In some ways the problem can be viewed as a moving target. We can prepare students for key jobs and career paths but the economic landscape will continue to shift and change. We can prepare students for college, but higher education will continue to morph in response to its changing realities. And while critical thinking is certainly important, it begs for specific ends and purposes in mind.

The undeniable fact is that the world is changing at an accelerating rate. And if we want to survive and thrive within this dynamic environment, we desperately need goals that can serve as both anchors and drivers, expanding the space for innovation and creativity, while at the same time ensuring a strong and stable foundation for growth.

While this may seem like a daunting challenge, such goals are well within our reach. In fact, I would argue that the notion of Deep Integrative Learning might just be the Holy Grail we’re all seeking.

What is deep integrative learning? Perhaps it can best be understood through its associated competencies: the ability to attend to the underlying meaning of information and content; to integrate and synthesize different ideas and sources of information; to discern patterns in evidence or phenomena; to apply knowledge in different situations; and to view issues from multiple perspectives.

While each of these represents important abilities that align closely with employer needs and expectations, thus supporting the goals of employability and indirectly college readiness, collectively, they offer so much more. Beyond academic and professional success, they address societal and civic needs related to personal responsibility and perspective taking. And from the standpoint of pedagogical diversity, they present a vast universe of learning opportunities, including both academic and non-academic experiences.

Beyond its conceptual merits, however, I have seen the benefits of deep integrative learning first hand. Students who return from study abroad or a service trip profoundly changed, and look at their discipline and career goals through a new set of lenses. When we are able to support and empower these students by nurturing their observations, testing their assumptions and stereotypes, and introducing them to new paradigms and frameworks, we will witness the generative power of learning. In addition to  better workers, students, and professionals, they will become better citizens and stewards of the world, the ultimate goal to which we should all aspire.

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About mbhuber2013

convener and co-founder of BTEP, instructor for Tanzania Study Abroad course; Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning at University at Buffalo

One response to “Homage to Deep Integrative Learning”

  1. Jay Collier says :

    Thank you for espousing integrative learning as a desired experience, not only within a school environment, but also lifelong and “life-wide.”

    Here in Maine, we are fortunate to have had integrative thinking as a guiding principle in statewide education legislation since 1997 and starting next year, high school students will need to demonstrate competency in these principles, including integrative thinking.

    http://www.maine.gov/doe/proficiency/standards/guiding-principles.html

    In a TED talk, the late Peter Benson once said,

    “I like to ask adults: ‘What is your highest aspiration for our young?’ Some interesting things happen.

    “No one has ever said, ‘This child of mine, my fondest wish is that they will ace statewide benchmark math and science test when they’re 16.’

    “I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘Oh, my fondest wish is that this young person will help make America more competitive in the global economy.’

    “No, when you actually listen to people’s statements about their dreams for our kids, you hear a very different language.

    “‘Kids who experience joy, kids who are connected and engaged. Kids who fall in love with their life and all of life, kids with kindness, and generosity. Kids who are happy, kids who contribute.’

    That is the language of human thriving.”

    The best, deepest learning facilitates personal and societal transformation. It helps us thrive.

    Like

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