Learning is Messy

“Classrooms which emulate the “fuzziness” of this learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning.” – Connectivism by George Siemens

In suggesting that learning is messy, I don’t just mean in the physical sense of having a mess to clean up. Although, we all know sometimes we sit back at the end of a busy day in the classroom and wonder how we missed the tornado that went through! What I mean to suggest is that I don’t believe we can define learning as being one way or another and that we also need a mixed bag  of ways of learning in our classrooms.

Photo Credit: iconicphotoservices Flickr via Compfight cc

I am a firm believer in that our job as educators is to help guide our students through the process of becoming life long learners. What we use to help them do that, I don’t think is as important as the how. As with the study of any topic or area, there have been many who have come before those who are considered today’s ‘experts’ that have paved the path for today’s practices and education is no exception.

In order to help our students become lifelong learners we have to understand how to facilitate that process. We can’t just assume that they are going to know how to ask questions to guide them to a deeper understanding. We must model this. As my classmate Amy suggested in her post this week:

“..we need to use a combination of theories to drive our practice, in order to move from ‘lower levels’ to ‘higher levels’ of thinking.  There needs to be a ‘baseline’ developed in order to allow for independent problem solving and rationalization to occur (in my opinion).”

As I was sitting in class this week hearing names like John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner discussed I was taken back to my undergrad years. I was feeling a little anxious in class hearing these names because I wasn’t quite sure that I could pin point the ideas of each individual and felt like I should be able to! However, as I began to delve deeper into the learning theories, I understood that being exposed to their ideas in my undergrad had informed my teaching more than I had realized and it wasn’t just one or the other that had provided that influence.

If we have a look at this map of learning theories we quickly see that the theories and theorists themselves are not organized into a nice neat list. It is a complex web that works to provide an outline for the many and varied theories of learning. I think it would be fair to suggest that using a web to show how learning happens would be best as it doesn’t happen by following a set list of instructions. I think the process of learning is highlighted well in the video below as a group or ‘learning theorists’ decide how best to teach Johnny how to spell.

As one final piece to the puzzle of attempting to define something as messy as learning there is one thing in my opinion we must never forget. The most important things for teachers to do is to never forget the power of building relationships and adding the human touch to our classroom on a daily basis!



  1. Excellent video! I had to laugh as I recalled hearing the change in how spelling was taught from the time my mom was in grade 1 until the time that a much younger sister of hers entered grade one. My mom ended up being an amazing speller, while my poor aunt still struggles with spelling to this day. I just hope that, whatever approach was used with her, never again becomes ‘en vogue’ !

  2. I agree that we definitely need to understand that our students are a work in progress and we can’t just assume that they know and have all the necessary tools to be lifelong learners. It is our job as educators to take the necessary steps and to provide a variety of tools and resources to allow them to take learning to another level and in other contexts as well.

  3. I really found the web of learning theories useful this week. I love how you connected the theories in terms of being messy…the web proves this!

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