Lauren Resnick
Learning in school and out

Resnick describes 4 ways in which school learning differs from other learning.
  1. Individual cognition in school vs. shared cognition outside.

    The dominant form of school learning and performance is individual: homework, in-class exercises, etc. In contrast, much activity outside school--work, personal life, recreation, etc.-- take place within social systems. We also know that much design, software development, etc. is a team effort.

    To fix this, we need to integrated out-of-school cognitive performances into school learning, which involve socially shared intellectual work, organized around joint accomplishment of tasks. This permits participation even for the relatively unskilled, as a result of social sharing of tasks.

  2. Pure mentation in school vs. tool manipulation outside

    In school, tests often involve memory work; outside school, most mental activities are engaged intimately with tools (calculators, tables, simulation tools, and other cognitive aids). Tool use is not only a way for people of limited education to participate in cognitively complex activity systems; it's also a way of enhancing the capacity of highly educated people well beyond what they could do independently.

    Kids should know how to use calculators and keyboards--this is part of life! They shouldn't be required to do all sorts of calculations in their heads if there's software that can do it for them. Same for physics labs--when you electronically connect measuring instruments and computers to the experiment, the measurements are far more accurate than human students can accomplish, and the computer can quickly graph up lots of readings and present them in a meaningful chart form that the student can understand.

  3. Symbol manipulation in school vs. contextualized reasoning outside.

    School learning is primarily symbol-based, generalized, and decontextualized, in contrast to the type of situated learning that occurs outside. Outside school, actions are intimately connected with objects and events; actions are grounded in the logic of immediate situations, rather than being detached from any meaningful context.

    People work best if they have a mental model of a system--an idea of all its parts, what each does and how they work together, how changes in one part of the system cause changes in other parts. It permits flexibility in responding to unexpected situations, like knowing how to fix a car because you understand the basics of combustion, fluid dynamics, mechanics, etc.

  4. Generalized learning in school vs. situation-specific competencies outside.

    Transfer is always a problem; knowledge and skills are domain-specific. To be truly skillful outside school, people must develop situation-specific forms of competence, not just general skills and knowledge. Textbook learning often does not apply well to workplace situations. Too much time is given to theoretical explanation than to building truly expert performance skills. Both the structure of the knowledge used and the social conditions of its use may be mismatched.

    Resnick sees the heart of the problem as the decline of apprenticeship and the growth of vocational education. Unfortunately, vocational education both in school and on the job, often degenerates into decontextualized classroom learning or "book learning". Some things cannot be taught by the book. One solution to this is cognitive apprenticeship; in some countries they still use traditional apprenticeship, and use it very well.

People should be trained to be good adaptive learners, so they can perform effectively when situations are unpredictable and task demands change. This requires learning in out-of-school contexts--not just the tools people use today, but the process of building competence in using a general type of tools (like how to use a spreadsheet). She would also like to see more socially shared thinking and more active engagement with the objects of knowledge, not just symbols.