Words Into Works: Moving From Passive to Active Learning

Guest Post by Dale Stephens

Author Bio: Dale Stephens was homeschooled and then unschooled. Now he leads UnCollege.org. Perigee/Penguin recently published his first book: “Hacking your Education“.

What the naysayers of self-directed learning fail to understand is that an education in the 60’s was different than an education today. Today, it’s freer than it’s ever been, and the playing field has leveled, regardless of income. Right now, you have access to practically all of the world’s information – yet, the ramification of this very access still hasn’t grabbed the attention of the public domain yet. Sure, people are talking. But it’s not popular belief – college is still, in many people’s minds, the only way to trail blaze a path to success.

Too often we fail to answer a student’s question: ‘What am I learning this for?’ Yet, let’s be honest: the question of why we are learning what we are learning is one that needs to be asked.

The philosophy at Udacity – self-directed, project-based learning – meshes perfectly with what we believe at UnCollege. I knew that when I helped build a library as unschooler, I wasn’t just learning things for the sake of learning things. I made, as Seneca would say, my ‘words into works’. I took action, and if there’s any lesson teachers need to drill into their students, it’s not to passively absorb a viewpoint. It’s to take that viewpoint, and create. Udacity, with its unique approach, enables action, rather than just intellectual popcorn.

Self-directed, project-based learning is what the future needs to hold if it has a chance. In essence, it is application over theory. Yet, education ‘without the weight’ is exactly what many players in the traditional educational system are selling.

Education was supposed to create learners who created works, who made art, and who critically grappled with the world. Yet, the classroom setting, the antithesis of project-based learning, is often doing exactly the opposite: creating passive learners. When students take Honors Expository, they’re often more worried about writing for the teacher than the real world. In Economics class, students are taught theory, but probably not taught to think about the possibility of starting their own business. Now, the knowledge you’re armed with fires at the only thing schools want you to fire at – bubble-in score sheets, learning for tests.

UnCollege couldn’t disagree with this learning model more if it tried.

The future will hold something new and true to this project-based model, I’m sure of that. Udacity is giving people a way to be free again – to follow an education that was truly designed for them. It’s not theory. It’s interactive, and it’s hands on. Choosing a schedule with mandatory classes isn’t choosing your education. Education is choosing which projects you want to handle, which classes you’d like to take, and what mark you’d eventually like to leave.

The future is here. The content is here.  You just have to figure out how to take your education into your own hands.



4 thoughts on “Words Into Works: Moving From Passive to Active Learning

  1. As a university student, I cannot agree more. Last time I asked one of my teachers the question: ‘What am I learning this for?' her answer made me want to get out of the classroom and drop out of school.

  2. I just completed the first lesson of Udacity's CS101 and interacting with my friends who are doing it, I've learned more, understood more and applied more computer science than when I attended the actual physical classes in college. Now I am motivated to learn more, interact with others and code more. There is something so wrong with my educational experience for some reason they just

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