Discovery Learning and Individualized Teaching: The Vision of Schools for Life

by Jurgen Zimmer, Ph.D.

Some schools can be heard from far off: the teacher loudly speaks phrases, the whole class answers as one. Old-fashioned schools of this kind are to a large degree products of the colonial era, their classroom teaching methods still reflecting the spirit of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Teachers concentrate on covering each small portion of the fixed curriculum, and try not only to tame the horde of young lions in the class, but also bring them all to do the same thing at the same time. The style of mechanical learning employed is the most unsuitable conceivable for making sense of interrelationships, retaining what one has learned (even after the next exam), and applying knowledge gained. This is where a disastrous vicious circle of dequalification must be broken: insufficiently trained teachers behave like slaves to a detailed prescribed curriculum and force their students to reduce the great diversity of learning and experience down to the learning of textbooks by heart. When this mechanical system, which clearly contradicts the fundamental discoveries of modern learning theories, is then further underpinned by frequent tests and exams, one could even maintain that such a school is in the position of actually mutilating the qualifying potential of the next generation. Good test results achieved within this mechanism reveal very little about the ability to retain what one has learned, or creatively apply it in any given real situation.

Frontal class teaching will hopefully be a seldom occurrence in the Schools for Life. Instead, relying on the knowledge gained in modern learning theory, a researching, discovering, active kind of learning is favored. Learning will take place individually or in small teams, and the biography and learning background of every child will be taken into account. In contrast to repetitive learning which takes place within parameters of false security (where problem presentation, solution route, and solution itself are always already known beforehand), here the learning processes are of a much more open nature. Naturally there will still be some ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. But in real-life situations there are often a number of different options which have to be compared and considered before making a decision. In any case, learning in connection with entrepreneurship also means learning how to think strategically while dealing with uncertainties, practicing to take calculated risks.

There is a veritable arsenal of teaching methods and forms of pedagogical organization that serve these goals: teaching in small groups, learning and acting in projects, open or informal education, orienting the time frame to the task at hand and the current project (and not the other way around), team teaching, mixed-aged groups and cross-generational learning (where it makes sense to do so). Classrooms can be transformed into learning workshops.

At the same time, the limits of traditional school spaces will be dissolved: all the students will work with laptops and personal computers, and be able to communicate directly with teachers and other students electronically. Everyone will have access to libraries all over the world. In this interactive learning development, the concept of “classroom” will surpass the traditional classroom. In developing their projects, students will also be able to make use of multimedia designs, computer assisted drafting, the information highway, and graphic and desktop publishing tools.