Less Teaching and More Feedback?


I just finished a round of Tetris on my iPad while waiting for a plane. Nothing odd or disconcerting here. Millions are playing games every day around the world on their various devices. What is disconcerting, to any true-blue teacher, however, is the underlying logic of computer games and, more broadly, computer-adaptive learning:

      You don’t need any “teaching.”  You only need a good feedback system.

This is the revolution in our midst, threatening to undermine formal education as almost all of us have known it.

It’s not teaching that causes learning, after all—as painful as it might be for us educators to realize. Learning is caused by learners attempting to do something and getting feedback on the attempt. So learners need endless feedback more than they need endless teaching. As Eric Mazur has shown in his Harvard physics class for more than a decade, less teaching + more feedback = better learning. The key is good design, whether we are talking games, classes with clickers, or problem-based learning in which direct instruction is minimized. Formal teaching plays a minor role in a well-designed learning environment. Think Montessori, Socratic seminars, and great science labs.

Where we educators are most needed as helpers of learning is in giving personalized feedback or advice as well as emotional support and a vision of a richer intellectual life. That’s what flipping the classroom really means. Are mere “teachers” ready for this shift?

Grant Wiggins is president of Authentic Education in Hopewell, New Jersey; www.authenticeducation.org.  His article “7 Keys to Effective Feedback” appears in the September 2012 issue of Educational Leadership.