Critical Thinking Linkages To Learning

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  • Here you find didactical principles that describe on a meta-level how learning should be facilitated. There exists a diversity of terms and corresponding concepts (principles of learning, learning design, teaching strategy, didactic approach, teaching-learning arrangements etc.) that we named and summarized as teaching and learning approaches. We define teaching and learning approaches as theoretical concepts that describe on a meta-level how learning should be facilitated (for competence-oriented teaching and learning). Pedagogical approaches are linked to course formats and teaching methods, but not in a one-to-one matching.

    In the following section we briefly describe the most relevant teaching and learning approaches for HESD and HEE as it appeared in the results of the literature review (Mindt and Rieckmann, 2017). For each approach, we explain the core idea and the main objective focusing of its use in HESD and HEE. We also show linkages to other approaches. Furthermore, we provide sources of articles that might be helpful to get a deeper understanding of the approach.



    Active learning

    Core idea
    From a constructivist perspective, competencies, including knowledge, attitudes and skills, cannot be taught but have to be actively acquired by the learner him- or herself. The learner has to elaborate on knowledge, rethink it critically and integrate it in his/her own framework. “Active learning is the generic term for teaching pedagogies that require the educator to privilege the learner’s participation over his or her own declarative knowledge of the subject” (MacVaugh & Norton, 2012).
    Main objective
    Active learning shall foster “increased personal motivation, reduction of strategic learning behavior, improving deep understanding, development of critical thinking and development of reflexive abilities that support life-long learning” (MacVaugh & Norton, 2012, p. 74). Active learning can be contrasted to more traditional forms of teaching like memorization that produce “sluggish” knowledge (MacVaugh & Norton, 2012).
    Teacher’s role
    Having quoted the statement above, almost everything is said about the teacher’s role and his/her attitude towards teaching in an active learning approach. It emphasizes the learner’s agency and responsibility in acquiring and constructing knowledge. Therefore, the teacher assumes the role of a facilitator of learning processes. He/She “only” inspires for topics and learning activities.
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    Participatory learning
    Linkages
    Active learning as a fundamental principle for competence development is included in almost all other teaching and learning approaches.
    Sources for further reading
    • MacVaugh, J., & Norton, M. (2012). Introducing sustainability into business education contexts using active learning.

    Learner-centered learning

    Core idea
    Learner-centered approaches see students as autonomous learners who are responsible for setting and achieving their learning targets by choosing how, when and where they learn (Harkema & Schout, 2008; Jones & English, 2004). Students’ prior knowledge as well as their experiences in the social context are the starting points for stimulating learning processes of students who define their learning target and construct their own knowledge base (Barth, 2015; Harkema & Schout, 2008). It “includes collaborative activities, goal-driven tasks, intellectual discovery, activities that heighten thinking, and activities that provide practice in learning skills” (Jones & English, 2004, p. 420).
    Main objective
    Learner-centered “emphasizes the active development of knowledge rather than its mere transfer” (Barth, 2015, p. 92). Or put another way, it aims at deeper learning processes, not at passive experiences (Jones & English, 2004). Especially in self-directed learning approaches, learning about one’s own learning strategies becomes an explicit topic and students can develop their learning competence.
    Teacher’s role
    Learner-centered approaches require students to reflect on their own knowledge and learning processes in order to manage and monitor them. Teachers should give guidance for those reflections. Learner-centered approaches change the role of a teacher who becomes the moderator and coach of learning process (instead of being someone who only transfers structured knowledge).
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    self-directed learning
    Linkages
    Learner-centered approaches are directly linked to active learning.
    Sources for further reading
    • Harkema, S. J. M., & Schout, H. (2008). Incorporating Student-Centred Learning in Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education.
    • Hegarty, K., Thomas, I., Kriewaldt, C., Holdsworth, S., & Bekessy, S. (2011). Insights into the value of a ‘stand‐alone’ course for sustainability education.
    • Jones, C., & English, J. (2004). A Contemporary Approach to Entrepreneurship Education.

    Reflective learning

    Core idea
    Competence development and active construction of knowledge take place through reflection. Contents and experiences are deeply elaborated, rethought and integrated into existing frames of reference (or the frames are adapted). Reflection is an abstract, higher order cognitive skill that needs extra time and space to occur. For example, explicit reflection is the complementary part to action or “learning by doing” (Cörvers et al., 2016), because it includes critically reflecting and analyzing problems on a more conceptual, abstract level (Barth, 2015).
    Main objective
    Reflection aims at a comprehensive competence development (Cörvers et al., 2016). Reflection also has the power to change existing frames of reference for transformative learning.
    Teacher’s role
    The teacher is a facilitator of learning processes. It is his/her responsibility to stimulate reflection that integrates ethical and value-based considerations e.g. in problem-solving activities that links action and theory.
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    learning by reflection, debriefing, reviewing
    Linkages
    Reflective learning is an integral part of competence-oriented teaching and learning. It is part of almost all other competence-oriented teaching and learning approaches like problem-based learning (which is inquiry plus reflection of an issue), experiential learning (which is experience plus reflection of an issue) or service-learning (which is linking disciplinary, formal learning with informal learning in a service through reflection).
    Sources for further reading
    • Cörvers, R., Wiek, A., Kraker, J. de, Lang, D. J., & Martens, P. (2016). Problem-Based and Project-Based Learning for Sustainable Development.
    • Greenaway, R. (2002). The Art of Reviewing.

    Collaborative learning

    Core idea
    Collaborative learning simply means that students learn together. When students learn together collaboratively in small groups, they can share knowledge, but moreover they can challenge and negotiate their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, so that learning effects can be maximized (Cörvers et al., 2016). The learning is more dynamic and motivating. They “synthezise, communicate, and discuss ideas in ways that advance conceptual understanding” (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012, p. 571). It underlines competence development as a social activity. It “involves joint learning processes with participation and empathy as critical factors” (Barth, 2015, p. 93). The difference to cooperative learning has to be stressed, where learners divide tasks and work on them separately. Successful collaboration builds on shared learning objectives and the appreciation of different opinions or approaches (Barth, 2015).
    Main objective
    Through the interaction and comparison with others, students can restructure their understanding of concepts and recognize gaps in their knowledge. Peers can function as models for learning through social modeling (cf. Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012).
    Teacher’s role
    The teacher is a facilitator of group processes and discussions.
    Linkages
    Special forms of collaborative learning determine who is learning together, similar to interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary or intercultural learning. Collaborative learning (in addition to cooperative learning) can be fostered in project- or problem-based learning in groups.
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    group learning; group work; team work
    Sources for further reading
    • Slavich, G. M., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2012). Transformational Teaching: Theoretical Underpinnings, Basic Principles, and Core Methods.

    Experiential learning

    Core idea
    In short: Students engage in and reflect on personal experiences related to the course content (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012). The experience might come from a simulation game, the conduction of an interview, etc. Experiential learning goes back to Kolb’s learning cycle of experimental learning with the stages 1. Having a concrete experience, 2. Observation and reflection, 3. Formation of abstract concepts for generalization and 4. Application in new situations (Kolb, 1984).
    Main objective
    Experiential learning shall increase knowledge acquisition, skill development, and values clarification by linking rather abstract concepts to personal experience and the student’s life (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012).
    Teacher’s role
    The teacher designs the experience and gives instruction for reflections. This way he/she is more of a facilitator than an expert referring on his/her knowledge.
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    Experience-based learning; learning-by-doing; action learning: The experience that serves for reflection in the learning process is direct action like in an internship or a service-learning project, whereas experiential learning can also work with experiences in games, role plays or imaginations.; opportunity-centered learning in HEE: “Opportunity-centered learning (…) encompasses four interconnected processes: 1) exploring the opportunity, 2) relating the opportunity to personal goals, 3) planning to realize the opportunity and 4) acting to make the opportunity happen” (Lans, 2013; following Rae, 2003, p. 545).
    Linkages
    Experiential learning is learner-centered and active. It is often designed as a project. Subtypes are action-learning and service-learning.
    Sources for further reading
    • Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning. Experience as the Source of Learning and Development.
    • Bliemel, M. J. (2013). Getting Entrepreneurship Education Out of the Classroom and into Students’ Heads.
    • For action learning in HEE: Rae, D. (2009). Connecting Entrepreneurial and Action Learning in Student-Initiated New Business Ventures: The Case of SPEED.

    Problem-based learning

    Core idea
    Problem-based (or problem-oriented) learning (PBL) describes a learning process via understanding and solving problems (of complex real-world situations). “Students actively engage with meaningful tasks and complex scenarios, determine what they need to know and how and where they can find it” (Barth, 2015, p. 93). Instead of the teacher framing the problem, researching relevant information and presenting these, students do these tasks (Dobson & Tomkinson, 2012). PBL is linked to a specific context and situation in the way that it addresses an authentic scenario instead of only dry theory (Barth, 2015; MacVaugh & Norton, 2012; Wiek, Xiong, Brundiers, & van der Leeuw, 2014). Therefore, it is said to have “a strong motivating effect” (Barth, 2015, p. 94) – given the assumption that learners want to become involved.
    Main objective
    Problem-oriented learning specifically aims at action or strategic competencies by supporting “action-relevant procedural knowledge and skills” (Barth, 2015, p. 93) especially through “implicit links with the processes of problematization, problem investigation, problem solving and critical reflection” (MacVaugh & Norton, 2012, p. 74). A critical understanding is stressed over finding feasible solutions, so that theory building is also fostered (Wiek et al., 2014).
    Teacher’s role
    The teacher develops tasks and provides the setting in which students engage in problem-based learning. He/She should support the process of problem formulation to problem-solving with small-step assignments, by introducing students to relevant tools or methods and by providing feedback.
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    Problem-oriented learning; inquiry-based learning: A project- and action-oriented subcategory of PBL that has a strong research focus. Problems are not only analyzed applying theory and knowledge, but inquired and investigated in a (small) research project.
    Linkages
    PBL is strongly linked to self-directed learning, but also to experiential learning. PBL can also easily be linked to real-world and project-based learning.
    Sources for further reading
    • Wiek, A., Xiong, A., Brundiers, K., & van der Leeuw, S. (2014). Integrating problem- and project-based learning into sustainability programs.
    • Dobson, H. E., & Tomkinson, C. B. (2012). Creating sustainable development change agents through problem‐based learning.
    • Ellis, G., & Weekes, T. (2008). Making Sustainability ‘Real’: Using Group-Enquiry to Promote Education for Sustainable Development.

    Interdisciplinary learning

    Core idea
    In interdisciplinary learning, perspectives of different disciplines are not only represented and dealt with in the learning setting (multidisciplinarity), but collaborative tasks demand that the diverse perspectives and knowledge assets are communicated, discussed and integrated (Feng, 2012). Interdisciplinarity is necessary to solve complex, real-world challenges that involve and require expertise from more than one discipline.
    Main objective
    Interdisciplinary learning aims at the integration of different disciplinary perspectives and assets of knowledge in order to construct a comprehensive picture of complex problems and to use different methods or approaches for solving it.
    Teacher’s role
    Teachers provide guidance for and moderate the knowledge construction processes (Barth & Burandt, 2013). They are translators and mediators between different disciplinary cultures. It is their task as moderators to promote dialogue, make interdisciplinary misunderstandings explicit when ignored or not perceived by the students and to let students discover the value of disciplinary diversity (Feng, 2012).
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    Intercultural learning
    Linkages
    Collaborative learning; transdisciplinary learning
    Sources for further reading
    • Feng, L. (2012). Teacher and student responses to interdisciplinary aspects of sustainability education: what do we really know?
    • Lans, T., Oganisjana, K., Taeks, M., & Popov, V. (2013). Learning for Entrepreneurship in Heterogeneous Groups: Experiences from an International, Interdisciplinary Higher Education Student Programme.
    • Barth, M., & Burandt, S. (2013). Adding the ‘e-’ to Learning for Sustainable Development: Challenges and Innovation.

    Transdisciplinary learning

    Core idea
    In transdisciplinary learning, the academic learning is opened up and amplified through collaborative learning with partners from other sectors like civil society, enterprises, policy, schools, communities etc. At the center of the collaboration stands a complex problem or research question (cf. van Wynsberghe & Moore, 2014). The partners and students integrate their knowledge and resources to solve the problem together. The learning can “happen bidirectionally through the engagement in dialogue, activity, and learning with community members outside the academy” (van Wynsberghe & Moore, 2014, p. 316). In transdisciplinary contexts, academic knowledge and approaches have to be rethought, adapted and normatively evaluated. If students work in transdisciplinary projects, the learning setting becomes an informal one where students develop a lot of social skills. All stakeholders should benefit in a transdisciplinary learning project, although the benefits might be of different natures; e.g. a motivating and rich learning experience for students vs. academic support for an enterprise vs. a research opportunity for lecturers (Hynes & Richardson, 2007).
    Main objective
    Students gain insights into real-world problems and conditions and learn to adapt their academic, classroom-based knowledge and skills to the real-life context.
    Teacher’s role
    The teacher becomes not only a moderator for the students’ learning processes but also for the transdisciplinary, joint learning process of all stakeholders involved in the collaboration. Furthermore he/she has to be a networker and manager who initiates the collaboration, coordinates meetings etc.
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    Real-world learning, place-based learning
    Linkages
    Problem-based learning, service-learning, interdisciplinary learning
    Sources for further reading
    • Van Wynsberghe, R., & Moore, J. L. (2014). UN decade on education for sustainable development (UNDESD): enabling sustainability in higher education.
    • Hynes, B., & Richardson, I. (2007). Entrepreneurship education.

    Transformative learning

    Core idea
    The key word for transformative learning is “frame of reference”. Frames of reference describe how we perceive the world including habits of mind (e.g. habitual ways of thinking) as well as opinions and values (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012). Frames of reference are shaped through social and cultural influences but can be changed through new experiences of problem-solving, of problem discussions, or of critical reflections on assumptions and interpretations. Four possible strategies in a learning setting are postulated for the modification: 1. Elaboration of existing frames, 2. Learning new frames, 3. Transformation of habits of mind, 4. Transformation of opinions (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012 following Mezirow, 2000). Transformative learning is defined by its aims and principles, not by a concrete teaching or learning strategy. Sipos relates transformative learning to the teaching principle of “head, hands and heart” which means that all three psychological dimensions (affective, behavioral and cognitive) should be considered and involved in learning processes (Sipos, Battisti, & Grimm, 2008).
    Main objective
    Transformative learning aims at empowering students to question and “to change their frames of reference or worldviews” in order to develop their understanding of the world (Sipos et al., 2008, p. 71; Wals, 2011).
    Teacher’s role
    The teacher is a coach who empowers students to change their worldviews. He/She can also be called an “’provocateur[]’ who help[s] students become aware and more critical of their assumptions” (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012, p. 579). Educationalists working with the concept of transformative learning take a critical perspective on education itself. They accept that education always is value-laden.
    Synonyms or similar approaches
    transgressive learning: underlines that learning (in HESD) has to overcome the status-quo and prepare the learner for disruptive thinking and co-creation of new knowledge; transformational learning: aims at personal growth and changes in the learners’ attitudes towards learning; affective learning; moral learning; normative learning; critical learning; values-based learning: The core values (e.g. respect, responsibility, tolerance, and peace for sustainability in ESD) should inform the entire teaching and learning (Markley Rountree & Koernig, 2015).
    Linkages
    It can involve all kinds of pedagogical approaches – from problem-based approaches to traditional knowledge presentation to environmental education outdoor (cf. Sipos et al., 2008, p. 77). Anyway, group work and critical reflection are essential parts.
    Sources for further reading
    • Mezirow, J. 2000. Learning as transformation: critical perspectives on a theory in progress (1st ed).
    • Sipos, Y., Battisti, B., & Grimm, K. (2008). Achieving Transformative Sustainability Learning: Engaging Head, Hands and Heart.
    • Wals, A. E. J. (2011). Initiative for Transformative Sustainability Education at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
    • Slavich, G. M., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2012). Transformational Teaching: Theoretical Underpinnings, Basic Principles, and Core Methods.
    • Lotz-Sisitka, H., Wals, A. E., Kronlid, D., & McGarry, D. (2015). Transformative, transgressive social learning: rethinking higher education pedagogy in times of systemic global dysfunction.
    • Markley Rountree, M., & Koernig, S. K. (2015). Values-Based Education for Sustainability Marketers. Two Approaches for Enhancing Student Social Consciousness.

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