Introduction


I am hoping that in this module we might use a process of collaborative learning. Let me say something about it so that we can have an informed discussion about whether it is something from which we might be able to benefit.

The Banking Concept of Education


It is helpful, when trying to understand the nature of collaborative learning, to explore what it is kicking against. I would argue that collaborative learning is explicitly opposed to, and aims to be entirely different from, what the famous Brazilian educator Paulo Freire refers to as the ‘banking concept of education’ (see his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1972).

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So, what is this banking concept of education? According to Freire, it sees education as:

‘an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. /…/ the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize and repeat. /…/ the scope of the action allowed to students extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing deposits.’

Thus, some of the principal assumptions of the banking concept of education are:

  • The teacher teachers and the students are taught

  • The teacher knows everything and the students know nothing

  • The teacher talks – and has an active role - and the students listen – and are meek and have a passive role

  • Students take on board their passive role and assume that they cannot change anything – they endorse a fatalistic mentality

  • The teacher chooses the contents of the class – decides what students should know – and how the class should be managed

  • The teacher enforces his choice and the students comply – power is distributed asymmetrically since the teacher has the power to compel students to do certain things who do not have the same degree of power over the teacher

  • What is taught is static, divorced from other areas of knowledge and predictable

  • What is taught is divorced from the students’ own experiences and the real world

  • Students’ learning involves little critical reflection, questioning and creativity - learning involves just accepting what they are told

  • Success is measured in terms of the students’ ability to regurgitate what they have been taught

Freire’s view (and mine) is that using the banking concept in education is a poor way to teach and leads to an impoverished experience for students. Whilst it may just enable students to be successful in exams, it does not prepare them for life and making well-informed and sensible decisions about what to do in the world.

Collaborative Learning


In his work Freire is recommending that there is an alternative to this banking concept that provides students with a more enjoyable, deeper and more worthwhile experience. This alternative is what Freire calls ‘problem-posing education,’ or what today is referred to more commonly as ‘collaborative learning.’

So, what are the principal characteristics of collaborative learning?

  • The teacher and students both teach and learn for each other. In relation to this assertion, Freire (1972) writes ‘the teacher is no longer the one who teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.’

  • Both the teacher and the students bring knowledge to the class. Although different, all knowledge is accorded the same worth

  • The teacher and the students are actively engaged in the management of the class – both choose the contents and how it should be run

  • The classroom is egalitarian – power is distributed symmetrically since all participants have an equal chance to influence what happens there

  • Learning is problem-based, since students are invited to explore real world problems and to find, use their knowledge and skills, effective and meaningful solutions to them

  • Learning is a social process since the social acts of collective discussions, dialogue and communication are central to it. Students’ knowledge evolves and changes over time through these discussions

  • Learning involves thinking about problems in different ways and is therefore critical and creative

  • Learning produces a collective product – a body of knowledge to which everybody has made a significant contribution and is everybody’s collective property

But, does it work? Well, the learning pyramid – developed in the USA in the 1960s – suggests that it might. The pyramid records how much on average students retain or remember of the knowledge conveyed through different forms of learning. As you can see, the pyramid indicates that students retain less than 5% of a lecture, but as much as 75% of a practical and problem-based exercise.


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What is interesting about the pyramid, given our discussions, is that the least effective forms of learning – lectures, reading and audio-vision – are closely associated with the banking concept of education. This is because they involve students passively consuming what is presented to them without any opportunities to shape their educational experiences. By contrast, the most effective forms of learning – discussion, practice doing and teaching others – are in my view types of collaborative learning. This is because they enable students to shape their education and to manage it. If the pyramid has anything going for it, then we need to accept that collaborative learning is a highly effective way for students to learn.

Summerhill School


Summerhill School is an independent school is Suffolk that has put into practice this collaborative learning approach. Since it the children there are well-educated and well-motivated, then we can assume that this approach works.

At the school pupils are free to choose what they do with their time - whether they go to classes or not - and they participate fully in the running of the school community. meetings are held three times a week and all members of the community - staff and students alike - have an equal voice. The ethos of the school is 'freedom, not licence' - or students can do as they please, so long as it doesn't cause harm to others.

Questions


  1. Why are teachers - but also students - so committed to what Freire calls the banking concept of education? What do they gain from using it?
  2. Does Freire's description of the banking concept of education correspond with your own experiences of being in classrooms, lectures and seminars? Was being taught in that way really helping you to learn?
  3. What practical steps need to be taken to ensure that a process of collaborative learning can take place in classrooms?
  4. There is a lot of talk today about 'learning organisations.' How might these discussions about collaborative learning help managers to understand how effective effective learning might occur in organisations?

Sources


Pedagogy of the Oppressed - here's a website that explores Freire's famous book

Collaborative Learning Project - here's a website that explores collaborative learning

Summerhill School - the School's own website