What Does the Acronym “AAEEBL” Mean?
AAEEBL, the acronym, is packed with significance and is important to revisit now, seven years after it was introduced.
To best understand the significance of “AAEEBL,” we need to frame our thinking with these observations:
· Learning theory (how adults learn) has advanced significantly in the past few decades since the advent of cognitive science, and since a recognition that learning is social, and, finally, since many fields other than education and psychology have contributed their own perspectives on learning
· The term “pedagogy,” as used in higher education, referring to the teaching of children, has probably outlived its usefulness, first because it refers to children and college students are not children, and secondly because it refers to teaching, and higher education is moving away from an exclusive focus on teaching and toward a more balanced focus on both teaching and learning.
Sometimes, a change in language can assist a shift in thinking. I don’t expect that educators will start using “learning theory” or “learning design” anytime soon but it might be a useful start to know that “pedagogy” is, at its root, a regressive term.
But I recognize that most faculty, save for education faculty, have not been nor are still expected to have a background in adult learning theory. We can all recognize the irony in this fact at this point in history when educators are being asked to re-consider their learning theories. How many educators have the preparation or knowledge to change their learning theory or even know what learning theory they are using now?
Since faculty have usually been hired over the last century because of their knowledge of content and not because of their knowledge of what learning process is best for their students, we are now in a time when faculty are being asked to do something – change how they manage learning -- that they are most often unprepared for. The rules of the game seem to have been changed.
Technology has made us re-think what we do in higher education. And, it has therefore made us re-examine what we have actually been doing in higher education from a learning theory perspective. We, as educators, have bumped up against new discoveries about how adults learn in the fields of not only the traditional fields of education and psychology, but also in cognitive science, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and other fields.
The new understandings about learning also involve information technology because of big data and being able to integrate findings from numerous studies. Technology, therefore, helps us better research and understand how adults learn and then conveniently provides us the means to change our practices accordingly.
AAEEBL, including references to “authentic” learning, “experiential learning” and “evidence-based” learning provides indicators of the new understanding of learning that should form the basis for new learning designs. As such, it is a powerful acronym.
Let’s start with the second “A,” which stands for “authentic.”
“Authentic” means real-world, but it also means authentically a way that people learn. Lectures are one way that some people learn but many do not learn that way, and very definitely lectures are only a tiny part of any educated person’s total learning process. If humans learn every day, and every waking hour, there must be many other ways that humans are learning other than hearing an expert talk. And of course, we now know that the learning process is constant and that it is based in experience. It is based in dialogue, in problem solving, in group interaction, in experimentation, in real-world challenges and many other authentic contexts. The traditional classroom has played only a very small part in the learning of an educated adult.
Moving on to the next letter in “AAEEBL”, experiential learning: it is not a teaching method or a learning design. Instead, it is a theory about how learning occurs – it is how learning does happen as opposed to how it should happen. It is not prescriptive but descriptive. It suggests that learning is personal and is shaped by experience. Knowledge, therefore, cannot be separated from experience. It has been a custom to say about books that books separated the known from the knower. But knowledge did not and does not exist in the book but in the minds of all those who read the book; in the end, knowledge is always personal and therefore always shaped by experience. It cannot be separated from the knower.
How knowledge came to be felt as fixed, or having a life of its own, in our culture is curious and maybe related to the nature of print but the results of that feeling of fixedness, that belief about knowledge, has led educators to understand “learning” in ways that resulted in ineffective learning designs: basing an educational system on a false belief that “content” was a thing had or has no basis in fact or fantasy.
There is no “content” as a thing of its own, but only a method of creating knowledge through a certain process. The job of the educator is to generate that knowledge creating process in learners. The job of the learner is not only memorizing facts but learning to generate knowledge in a field. The content is learners learning that process.
And, now, on to a term that I invented in January 2009 – evidence-based learning – that has seemingly two meanings at this point.
My intention for that term was to describe the eportfolio process of learning, reflectively and integratively, through one’s own evidence. In other words, the learning in the eportfolio process is based in evidence. But, as an analogy with “evidence-based medicine,” the term has also taken on another logical meaning, that is, using the best evidence available to determine the design of learning. That is a welcome second meaning but I would hope we don’t lose the initial meaning.
That original meaning is revolutionary: learning not based on content-transfer (a business concept not a learning concept) but based in one’s own experience as documented by evidence.
AAEEBL – the term – was and is an attempt to capture the significance of “eportfolio.” ePortfolio technology allows the learner to have greater ownership of learning than has been technologically possible; it allows a center of learning to be established away from the institution; it therefore allows for learning to be situated in the learner. That has always been the case, but the myth was that it was situated in the classroom. In other words, eportolio allows us to recognize learning as it authentically is.