Learner vs. Student: Who do You Want in Your Classroom?

by Kathleen McClaskey

It is the start of the school year and you have been preparing to have your assigned children enter your classroom. You have so many questions about them but one you may have not thought about is: Are they students or learners? Think about that… do you want students or learners in your classroom this year? What is the difference anyway? Well let’s take a look at the difference and have you decide for yourself.

Learner vs. Student

We are at a crossroads in education where we understand that traditional school systems are not preparing our children for a world where they will need to learn, unlearn and relearn in an ever-changing economy. As we try to create more personalized, learner-centered environments, it is important to understand that we need to change the language so we can change the culture in the classroom and school. Using the term “Learner” is a critical first step so that we see every child and every person as a learner. So what is the difference between a learner and a student? Let’s look at the definitions:

From Wikipedia, “A student is primarily a person enrolled in a school or other educational institution who attends classes in a course to attain the appropriate level of mastery of a subject under the guidance of an instructor and who devotes time outside class to do whatever activities the instructor assigns that are necessary either for class preparation or to submit evidence of progress towards that mastery.”

From Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, a learner is “a person who is finding out about a subject or how to do something.”

From The Glossary of Education Reform, when comparing learner and student, they point out that “While this preference may seem arbitrary on the surface, it does appear to serve a semantic purpose: learning can occur in the absence of teaching, but teaching doesn’t occur without some form of learning taking place. i.e.,

learners can learn without teachers, but students are only students when they have teachers.”

Now take a look at the comparisons in the chart and decide on the qualities you would like for the children in your classroom to have. This is not a comprehensive comparison of Learners vs Students but it does offer an initial comparison on what the distinct differences are and what qualities would be found in a traditional vs personalized learning system. If you have decided you want learners in your classroom, then the question you need to consider exploring is….

How do we create a school culture in which being a learner is more valuable that being a student!

Empower the Learners

The simple answer to this question is to empower your learners with their identity so that they can share their story of who they are, how they learn and what they aspire to be! Have your learners use the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express to develop an Empower the Learner Profile, based on the learning sciences, to discover their strengths and challenges, preferences and needs in the what, how and why of their learning. Value every learner by building a strong relationship with each of them. Build a Personal Learning Backpack with the learner so they can support challenges and enhance strengths in their own learning. Help them develop learning goals in a Personal Learning Plan so that they can gain the skills and practices to be agents of their own learning. Reflect with each learner so they can realize the progress they are making with their goals.

When you do this, your classroom culture will be filled with learners who are future ready!

Edited from original post from September 30, 2018 at http://kathleenmcclaskey.com/2018/09/30/learner-vs-student/

PDF of Learner vs. Student


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