Essential Learning: Front and Center

Since the mission of W3 Workshop is to improve essential learning, it is important to keep the meaning of essential learning front and center.

Essential learning means acquiring the abilities and dispositions necessary to achieve and maintain the highest quality of life we can for everyone.

Abilities are comprised of knowledge and skills. Knowledge is more than facts or information that you are able to recognize or recall; it is a representation of some part or aspect of the real world we use to take action. Skills are the “know-how” that must accompany knowledge to be able to take effective action.

Dispositions are propensities to think and act in certain ways–habits of mind and habits of action.

Contemporary discourse on essential learning most relevant to the work of W3 Workshop includes the middle and secondary education conversation about “college and career readiness,” the postsecondary undergraduate education conversation on the intended student learning outcomes of liberal and/or general education, the conversation at all postsecondary degree levels about core program-level learning objectives in the major/area of specialization/profession, and the broader conversations about lifelong learning and learning to learn for continuing professional and personal development throughout the life span.

There is no definitive list of essential abilities and dispositions. But there are common topics in all of these conversations. They include, for example, communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving, quantitative reasoning, collaboration and teamwork, cultural competence and global awareness, creativity and innovation, information and technology literacy, adaptability and flexibility, and productivity and accountability.

It is no exaggeration to say that conceptual confusion is rampant when it comes to defining, and making distinctions between and connections among knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions in these conversations.

It is for this reason that striving to bring conceptual clarity to the study and improvement of essential learning is the first and foremost project of W3 Workshop. Without conceptual clarity about the aims of essential learning in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions, efforts to improve essential learning through innovative applications of communications and information technology (the second project), and assessment (the third project), will continue to fall short of aspirations if not fail altogether.

 

 

Improving Essential Learning