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Significant Learning: Adults Only?

“The purpose of instruction (and any other learning activity) is the promotion of student learning. All decisions relating to a given course (or other learning experience)—from the selection of reading materials to the assessment process—should be judged by their contribution to this end.”                        Dr. L. Dee Fink

I was highly energized after reading Dr. L. Dee Fink’s article What is ‘Significant Learning’?, once again drawn to the parallels of childhood and adult learning theory.  Early in this article, Dr. Fink asserts that his Taxonomy of Significant Learning is the successor of the famous Bloom’s Taxonomy of the 1950’s.  He states, “any model that commands this kind of respect half a century later is extraordinary.”

‘Blooms’ is often associated with K-12 instructional strategies, used heavily in teacher prep programs and associated with rigorous curriculum development.  Yet, it is referenced by Dr. Fink as the seminal work on which he built a new learning taxonomy for adults.  Does Bloom’s Taxonomy, as Fink asserts, command respect solely on its ability to have significance for half a century?  Should tablet-arm desks in rows, the teacher desk in the front, chalk and chalkboards, grade level configurations, curriculum sequence, grade level configurations, and learning to write in cursive also command respect because they have held significance for half a century (or more)?

Fink advocates for new kinds of learning at the college level:  learning how to learn, leadership and interpersonal skills, ethics, communication skills, character, tolerance, and the ability to adapt to change.  Dr. Fink states that the elements of his taxonomy are “not hierarchical, but relational and interactive” and that they “enhance the possibility of the other kinds of learning being achieved.”

In comparison, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a currently esteemed organization in the K-12 world, “advocates for the integration of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication into the teaching of core academic subjects such as English, reading or language arts, world languages, arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history, government and civics.”

Dr. Fink defines learning in terms of change: “for learning to occur, there has to be some kind of change in the learner.  No change, no learning.  And significant learning requires that there by some kind of lasting change that is important in terms of the learner’s life.”

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and its member organizations provide tools and resources that help facilitate and drive necessary change.

Does using different vernacular change the way we construct learning experiences?  What is the difference between ‘integrated course design’ and ‘interdisciplinary instruction’?  Is significant learning only applicable to adults?  Is it time to move away from a linear cognitive model that has commanded respect for half a century?  Which will have more ‘significant’ impact on learning – applying Fink’s Significant Learning Taxonomy principles to K-12 education or college/adult education?  OR is it time for SIGNIFICANT change in both?


One Response to “Significant Learning: Adults Only?”

  1. Thank You for the information from Dr. L. Dee Fink. I have added Creating Significant Learning Experiences to my library. With my return to college I have indeed noticed a greate(er) emphasis on tolerance, diversity, teamwork, and interpersonal skills.

    As a Non-Traditional Student I find some of it a bit “touchy-feely.” The ‘Other Oriented’ theme from my Interpersonal Communications Class, stresses a perspective I have had all my life. Are my Traditional classmates that “Me, Me, Me?”

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