Learning dispositions

Students will require a complex combination of dispositions, skills, values and attitudes to be successful future oriented lifelong learners. General capabilities and personal qualities like resilience and the ability to communicate and collaborate with others become important elements of our learners' identities.

These abilities need to be shaped and nurtured in our learning environments to ensure that students have the transferable skills and competencies that will enable them to, survive in the future world of work and be thoughtful, contributive global citizens.

The access to digital technologies and the impact of globalisation increases the need for our learners to be more socially and culturally aware but also more aware of how they learn and what drives their learning. Our learners will need to evaluate and assess their own learning.

What are learning dispositions?

The term 'learning dispositions', sometimes called 'habits of mind' or 'dispositions to learning', refer to the way in which learners engage in and relate to the learning process. Learning dispositions affect how students approach learning and therefore the outcomes of their learning.

Different research identifies different dispositions but there is consensus about the importance of the learning dispositions furthering skills, engagement and deep understanding.

Development of these dispositions is fundamental for students to develop an awareness of the way they learn and establish future-focused attitudes to learning, critical if they are to be able to become lifelong learners.

Some commonly identified learning dispositions that are particularly relevant when thinking about future-focused practices, include:

Persistent students stick to a task until it is completed and don't give up easily. They are able to analyse a problem, and develop a system, structure or strategy to attack it. They have a repertoire of alternative strategies for problem solving and are comfortable in employing a wide range of these strategies for the one task. These students often have systematic methods for analysing a problem and are comfortable in ambiguous situations. Persistence is a key attribute for students to develop as it encourages a positive attitude towards tasks and a resilience for examining different ways a problem can be solved, rather than just giving up at the first sign of failure. This resilience is undeniably a necessary skill that students needs for success in the 21st century.

Flexible students have the capacity to change their minds as they receive additional information. They often consider alternative points of view or deal with several sources of information simultaneously. Their minds are often open to change based on additional information, new data or even reasoning that contradicts their beliefs. Flexible thinkers display confidence in their intuition and tolerate a reasonable degree of confusion and ambiguity. They are often willing to shift their thinking to ensure their approach to problem-solving is creative and productive.

Successful individuals in the 21st century possess a deep sense of motivation and drive to continually undertake new learning experiences. Highly motivated students are often characterised by their enthusiasm and engagement in the classroom, their interest and involvement in a wide range of learning areas and their ability to actively cope with challenges and setbacks. They will often seek out additional learning experiences in order to learn as much as possible. Student motivation can be internally or externally driven but, most commonly, it is a combination of both which underpins students' approach to their learning.

Metacognition is the process of examining our own thoughts as we engage in them. It is commonly referred to as 'thinking about thinking'. In the classroom, it is characterised by students' ability to plan a strategy for producing the information that is needed, the awareness of their own learning process and their ability to reflect on and evaluate the productiveness of their own thinking. Students need to be able to question themselves about their own learning strategies and evaluate the efficiency of their own performance in order to be successful learners in the 21st century.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of students who are well prepared for 21st century learning is their inclination and ability to find problems to solve and ask useful questions to enhance their knowledge and understanding. Effective problem solvers know how to ask questions in order to fill in gaps between what they know and what they do not yet know. They also pose questions about alternative points of view and often make causal connections between people, events or situations. Effective problem-solving and questioning also requires learners to pose hypothetical problems characterised by 'if' questions and to recognise discrepancies and phenomena in their environment which require further investigation.

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