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Learning to Do and Doing to Learn
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon
Education has many goals. One of its fundamental and unifying goals is
to help learners gain knowledge and skill that will be useful to them
as they deal with problems and tasks they currently face or are likely
to encounter in the future (Moursund, 4/19/2015). Learning to learn and learning to make effective use of one’s
learning cut across all disciplines of study.
I think of learning in terms of Learning
to Do and then Doing to Learn.
For example, students first learn to
read and then they read to
learn. This idea is fully integrated into our school system. In
the United States, the expectation is that students will learn to read
well enough by the end of the third grade so that reading across the
curriculum can become a useful aid to their future learning across the
curriculum. Long ago when I was in middle school (junior high school),
the general plan was that more than half of school learning would come
A lot has changed since then. Not only do we have interactive
computerized reading materials, we also have greatly improved video
aids to learning. In some sense, reading has expanded to be reading and
using other visual aids to obtaining information.
This IAE Newsletter considers
the 4 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic/math, Reasoning/computational thinking)
and explores some of its Doing to
Learn aspects. See my free book, (Moursund, December, 2016). My
goal is to help make schooling more relevant to students (Moursund,
8/7/2014). Reading and Writing
In this section I explore learning to read and write and then doing reading and writing to gain greater skill in reading and writing.
Reading and writing are human inventions—tools that one can learn to
use. Over thousands of years, people have worked on the task of how to
effectively help children learn to read. Nowadays, parents and other
child caregivers are strongly encouraged to start this instruction for
infants, and to continue reading to and reading with their children up
through the first few grades of school.
As children begin preschool, they receive group instruction in reading.
For most students, group instruction provided by schools is reasonably
effective, but not as effective as one-on-one instruction provided by a
parent, caregiver, or tutor.
Instruction in writing may also be initiated at home by parents and
other child caregivers. However, very young children lack the hand-eye
coordination that writing using pencil/pen and paper requires. But
wait! Now quite young children can access a tablet computer or
child-oriented toy that has a keyboard. A keyboard overcomes the
hand-eye coordination problem and facilitates very early learning of
Moreover, the tablet computer or educational toy a child is playing
with can provide oral instruction and various types of feedback. While
not the same as (not as good as) a one-on-one human teacher, clearly we
can now make use of components of the 4th R at the preschool
level to help a child get started in reading and writing. Teachers—even
at the preschool level—now have to deal with some children who have had
this early computer-assisted instruction aid to learning reading and
A learner progresses in learning reading and writing by doing
reading and writing. An essential aid to this progress is feedback.
Consider a child who is not hearing impaired. The child can provide
self-feedback. Learner-appropriate reading material contains words and
content ideas that are part of the learner’s oral language. The child
ask: “Does what I have just read make sense to me?” Computer-assisted
instruction can also provide feedback. Such a learning aid instruction
can read individual words, sentences, or the whole passage to a learner.
In summary, reading and writing are powerful aids to communication,
writing, and thinking. Computers can now play a significant role in
reading and writing instruction as well as in using one’s reading and
writing skills. Arithmetic (Math)
To parallel the discussion of the previous section, I will use the vocabulary learning to math and mathing to learn.
We all have personal experience in learning to do arithmetic and other
aspects of mathematics. Math is a required component of schooling
typically up through three years of high school mth and continues to be
required of many students even in the first year of their college
undergraduate work. At all levels of instruction, teachers and their
instructional materials attempt to in include uses of the math they are
teaching. Math is taught both as a discipline in its own right and as a
tool that is useful in doing things outside of the school classroom
My observation is that most math instruction is weak in the area of mathing to learn
math and non-math disciplines. Part of the difficulty is that “real
world” applications of math tend to be above the math knowledge and
skills a student has acquired by the time such challenges occur. For
example, consider pie charts (circle graphs) that illustrate and make
use of parts of a whole. These are visually and somewhat intuitive to
second graders. But actually creating pie charts requires math content
taught at the fourth and fifth grades. Contrast this with the ease of
use of software designed for the task. A second grader can learn to use
this software. The computer technology is used to invert the order of
the traditional pie chart curriculum. My colleague James Fey developed
the idea of an inverted curriculum in the early 1980s (Fey, 1984;
Moursund, 1/11/2015). Learning 4th R Tools and Using 4th R Tools to Learn
In this section I use the expressions Learning to ICT and ICTing to Learn.
This is hugely important to education. For a simple example, consider a
film camera and a digital camera. Film is relatively expensive and
usually takes several days to get commercially developed. A digital
photograph costs nothing (once one has a digital camera) and is
available instantly. Even a preschool child can use a digital camera,
such as one built into a Smartphone. Think about learning to take
digital photographs and taking digital photographs to learn about
photography and in the study of many other subject areas.
In addition, there are a variety of computer-assisted instruction
programs designed to help teach photography. These are learning by
doing computer simulations that provide an excellent environment for
learn by doing and making use of feedback from one’s own eyes
(CameraSim n.d.; Canon, n.d.).
For a more dramatic example, see Virtual Reality in the Science Lab (Moursund, 6/5/2016). This IAE Blog entry begins with a learn by doing quotation:
"If you want to teach people a new way
of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead give them a
tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking." (Richard
Buckminster Fuller; American engineer, author, designer, inventor, and
The emerging Maker Culture and Maker Movement provide good examples of
learning by doing. Computer technology empowers students of all ages to
use their talents invent and make new things (Wikipedia, n.d.). Quoting
from that source:
The maker culture is a contemporary
culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of Do
It Yourself (DIY) culture that intersects with hacker culture (which is
less concerned with physical objects as it focuses on software) and
revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with
existing ones. The maker culture in general supports open-source
hardware. Typical interests enjoyed
by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as
electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of Computer Numeric
Control tools, as well as more traditional activities such as
metalworking, woodworking, and, mainly, its predecessor, the
traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses a
cut-and-paste approach to standardized hobbyist technologies, and
encourages cookbook re-use of designs published on websites and
maker-oriented publications. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them to reference designs. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Information and Communication Technology is
providing powerful aids to both learning and doing. Many of these aids
can be used by relatively young students, and many suggest needed
restructuring of both the content and the order of the traditional
All teachers face questions such as “Why do I have to learn this?” and
“What’s it good for?” I believe we educators can help answer such
questions by developing curriculum that has an increased emphasis on
doing—students making use of what they are learning. The 4th
R can be smoothly integrated into curriculum content, instructional
processes, and assessment at all grade levels. This can be done in a
manner that empowers students—helps them to solve problems and
accomplish tasks that they consider relevant.
David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter.
His professional career includes founding the International Society for
Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive
officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral
students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and
workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books
and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free
online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books.
In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell.
Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3)
non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology
and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is
the President of AGATE.
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