Sunday, August 4, 2019

If It's Easy Then it Probably Isn't Learning

What is the purpose of education? To many, this might seem like a ridiculous question with the answer being quite obvious. Or is it? For this post at least, let’s go with learning. Some might equate this with the successful ability to be able to recall or memorize facts and information. The casual observer might then anoint anyone who is able to do this effectively as smart or intelligent. Perhaps he or she is. Is being able to ace a standardized test an accurate indication of what someone knows, can do or both? My opinion on this is no.

For each person, there is a particular path to acquire, apply, and construct new knowledge.  It is much more challenging to accomplish this as some might think, and the journey is often convoluted. The fact remains that learning is anything but linear. It is more about the process than it is getting to a particular destination. Herein lies what I really want to discuss.  When you think about the greatest minds in our society, perception is rarely reality. If you take a close look and peel away the layers, you will see a path fraught with challenges, frustration, and failure. The same can be said about any person who actively solves problems on a day to day basis such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and auto mechanics. What do they all have in common? Each and every one has been able to utilize divergent thinking to apply what he or she knows and solve problems.  

Regardless of where a student is at in their learning, it is incumbent to challenge him or her through relevant experiences. The Rigor Relevance Framework is a great tool that can provide teachers and administrators with the context to create and evaluate both questions and tasks that empower both thinking and application while fostering relationships in the process. So, what does this look like?  One of my favorite images that illustrate what the process should look like is the learning pit.  Take a look at the image below to see what I mean.

The questions throughout the journey are key, in my opinion.  If learning is not rigorous and relevant, then students can most likely jump right over the pit. That’s what I mean when I say if it is easy, then it probably isn’t learning. What this ultimately equates to are questions and tasks that don’t challenge kids to think and apply what they are learning across multiple disciplines or to solve either real-world predictable to unpredictable problems.  When all of these elements are part of a lesson or project, what results is the development of cognitive flexibility in students.  

Nothing comes easy in life. There is no better way to teach this life-long lesson than getting kids into the learning pit and experience the RRR (rigor, relevance, relationship) dip where they come out more confident and capable. 


  1. Thanks for the insight. I couldn't agree more. Absolutely spot on! I would add a fourth "R" for resilience

  2. Well said :) Learning is a struggle and can also be fun - the two are not mutually exclusive. If learning is not relevant, why should the student care? If it is a miserable experience as well, that's just cruel.

    1. Agreed. Also, another challenge I see from my lens is how the word "rigor" is misconstrued. Rigor is all about thinking and challenging kids to apply their thinking in meaningful ways, which should NOT be a miserable experience. More on that here