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Learning to Learn: A future proof skill

Michelle Green /
20 August 2019

The education of children is always going to give rise to debate – and so it should, given what’s at stake.

Recent topical issues have included whether mobile phones have a place in the classroom, if universities should reintroduce prerequisites for subjects and whether single sex or coeducational schools are best for students.

The diversity of views and approaches to education is reflected in the different ways Independent schools meet the needs of their students. Each Independent school in Victoria has its own way of equipping students with the skills they will need to thrive in an unpredictable future.

But as Melbourne neuroscientist Dr Jared Cooney Horvath says, there is one skill that will never fall out of fashion – learning.

Learning, he says, ‘is the only truly future-proof skill’.

Dr Horvath is not referring to what students are learning about – mathematics, digital skills, languages or the arts. Rather, he’s talking about the way students learn and how they think about their thinking. Educators call it metacognition.

Over the last five years, Independent Schools Victoria has worked on a metacognition project called Cognizance. The program draws on scientific discoveries made possible by new technology and brain imaging processes that have provided scientists with new ways of studying the brain.

These discoveries underpin a core principle of metacognition programs such as Cognizance: the brain is not a fixed entity – it can be transformed throughout our lives.

Students at a range of schools have taken part in Cognizance, learning how their minds, brains and memories work, and importantly, how they can use what they discover to take ownership of their own learning processes.

This week, we sent a research report to our Member Schools with the results from six schools that took part in the program in 2018, conducted in partnership with Dr Horvath.

Based on the encouraging results of this research, ISV has extended the project to 10 schools this year. The research provides strong evidence that the students and teachers involved in the project emerged with confidence in their understanding of the principles of metacognition and a willingness to apply them in their teaching and study.

The research also shows that this confidence was translating into better academic performance, and greater self-awareness.

This is not to say that content – what children are actually studying – is unimportant. While some skills might become obsolete, students will always need essential skills, in numeracy and literacy, for instance, and knowledge itself provides context.

Ultimately, though, students who know how to think – those who can readily adapt to emergent ideas and drop those that are no longer useful – will be the best prepared, not only to adapt to the major changes looming over society, but to lead them.

Along the way it might help them resolve some of the debates about education.