The Language of Learning

A few weeks ago, I had coffee with my talented colleague Robin Katz, and we talked about teaching things, just like you might expect. I was struck then, and in a later co-consult with a faculty member, how Robin talked about “learning goals” for library sessions, and how that language choice really seemed to open the door to seeing librarians and course instructors in collaboration about the library session.

Now, of course, for those precisionists among us (I see you), there is a difference between “learning goals” and “learning outcomes,” and what we usually actually mean when we talk about the library session is outcomes, BUT:

  • I learned long ago (and probably many of you did too) that people get a bit less excited to talk to you when you start talking in the language of assessment, so I usually ask questions like, “What do you hope your students will be able to do after the library session?” instead of using the word “outcome.”
  • There’s just something about the word “goal” that really resonates: It’s aspirational, and encourages us to try new things. It gives us something collaborative to work toward, together.

And in a conversation with an instructor, it seems to me that the precise definition of terms doesn’t matter–it’s the outcome of the conversation that is valuable (see what I did there?).

Since that coffee, I’ve started incorporating the language of “learning goals” into my discussions with course instructors, and I think it’s making a difference. When I go back to plan my class, I do return to thinking about “outcomes,” but that’s for my own personal use.

All of this is just to say that I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the language that we use to describe what we do, and how we do it. Have you had any experiences like this, where a language change seems to have made a difference? I’d love to hear about it!

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher

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