Monday, April 11, 2011

Learning Models in the 21st Century by John Chasteen

Understanding the Shifting Learning Models in the 21st Century

Don't Ask "Are We Teaching."  But Rather, "Is Anyone Learning? "

Learning models in America are rapidly changing. This is due to the fact that a contemporary generation no longer processes life as the previous one did. In light of this reality many of us run the risk of becoming out-dated and even antiquated in our approach to teaching and equipping the body of Christ.

The question we should be asking ourselves is not “are we teaching,” but rather “is anyone learning?”

For most, the change will present a major paradigm shift in the way we currently perceive learning. Some even believe that the sun is setting on many of the previously accepted learning modules. For many who are of the Baby Boomer generation and older, challenges abound. I know because I happen to be a part of this generation.

So what are some of the adult learning models that are shifting in America? And, how do we as the church embrace them and leverage them to reach a generation for Christ? Here are just a few for our consideration:

1. A Shift from the Greek model to a Hebraic One

Most Western models of learning are built upon the Greek method of education. This model says that learning comes from the simple acquisition of information and knowledge. Give me a book, an article or more information and I will know it.

The Hebraic model says that you cannot truly learn something by the mere acquisition of information; rather, one learns by combining information with experience and participation. This is why Jesus called the disciples to “be with him.”

2.  A shift from a Monological style of teaching to a Dialogical One.

Jesus rarely taught through the means of a monologue. When we study his methods we find that most of his teaching, especially in the temple, turned into dialogue or a discussion. Why? Simply put, because adult learners learn best through processing and interaction with information. They perceive truth at a deeper level through interaction with the topic and with others.

The postmodern learner longs for community and relationship in all areas of life, but especially the classroom. They learn best by hearing others views, and at the same time assessing their own thoughts and experiences. Maybe as teachers we need to endeavor to open up more conversational space in the classroom instead of trying to fill it with our expert information. i.e more discussion and interaction.

3. A shift from top down lecturing to a style that promotes personal discovery of truth.

Studies show that adult learners learn on a deeper and more meaningful level when they discover truth for themselves. (Malcolm Knowles) If this is true, then the discovery process itself, becomes imperative. Could this be why it is recorded that Jesus himself asked over 300 questions during his ministry? I think possibly so.

Powerful questions is a tool that forces one to process his or her inner life and engage truth at a personal level. Do you know how to ask powerful questions?


New models of learning are emerging today due to a wide variety factors, many of which we do not have time to address in this article. However, it would suffice to say that many of the influences are the result of a postmodern shift in culture and the rapid rise of technology. Many models that have served us well in the past are now irrelevant and need to be discarded. 

So have you learned how to navigate these modern shifts in learning? Even more important, are you willing to change?

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