Blog / Fishing 101

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October 11, 2019
Posted by Christina Ngo
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July 9, 2019
Posted by Lukas Wenrick

The concept of the master learner is at the forefront of many team members’ minds. ASU helps people become capable of learning anything. Such people can then be problem-solvers and community assets under any circumstances. A central question is: what makes a master learner? 

Our essential thoughts are captured in the adage about teaching a man to fish. Alongside this is a critical notion that it is unrealistic to expect that teachers, from preschool to higher education, can single-handedly and with limited face time create the citizens that a successful future society will need. We should demand as much of ourselves as we do from our teachers.

Thus while a master learner has the ability to decipher what is going on, what must be done, and how to accomplish it, there are additional characteristics required to be a successful master learner. Master learners are self-motivated, take ownership of their knowledge journey, and feel responsible for the consequences of their decisions. These internal drivers are not easily captured with test scores, yet they are necessary components of active, courageous, resourceful, and resilient people.

We can teach a man to fish. To extend the learning metaphor, he also needs to go fishing at the right moment. He needs to adjust his tactics or seek new ones when traditional methods fail. He needs to want to fish, and he needs to accept that his survival and his community’s well-being depend on his ability to (sustainably) fish and to share the results of his efforts. He needs to be confident enough in his abilities and have the patience to teach others how to fish. The metaphor could go on.

To conclude with an apropos example, I recently attended several panels discussing the role of scholarly research in policy making. The arguments stretch back millennia, and in the information age, remain relevant as ever. We (academics included) speak of information overload as a reason for inaction, as if the complex conditions and many potential consequences would not exist if only we did not acknowledge them. It is tempting as well to overlook the inefficiencies and imperfections of collective decision making. 

The routes of less information or fewer collaborations are not the ones I would take out of ‘analysis paralysis.’ We must have the fortitude to figure out the optimal information we need and the resolve to put our ideas into testable actions. If university constituents do not use or model the desired behaviors of self-regulated, master learners, what good is teaching them? It will be the persistent people with dedication and diligence forged in the learning commons who will creatively solve modern conundrums such as scaling democratic institutions. We will do well to design and ensure higher education spaces as incubators of master learning.

See also:

Dan Pink on motivationscience knows creative problem solving requires intrinsic rewards.

Eric Weiner’s Geography of Genius: page 76-77 for an example, though the entire book is captivating.

Blog / Fishing 101