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Emotion is where real authentic learning both begins and ends. For a teacher, providing relevant learning connections to what is being taught is the key to making learning stick. Getting an emotional response in learners comes from showing them how what we teach is relevant to their needs. In other words, interest precedes learning. In the book Future-Focused Learning we outlined how to make a shift to a modern learning environment. Students use higher-level thinking in such a classroom to create products as solutions to real problems that matter. Providing relevant learning connections to our learners is by far the most important consideration in making this shift.
It doesn't matter if teaching is relevant to the teacher; it has to be relevant to the student. So how can we ensure this happens? Here are four simple and worthwhile things to think about for providing relevant learning connections.
4 Useful Questions for Providing Relevant Learning Connections
- Is the challenge or activity grounded in the real-world?
- Does your scenario involve Altruistic Service?
- Does it connect directly to their everyday lives?
- What do your students think?
1. Is the challenge or activity grounded in the real-world?
Though often we use simulations that mimic this, nothing beats doing the real thing. Tasks like this give students a sense of pride in accomplishing something real, something that isn't school. In these situations, the students will never ask, "Where would I use this in the real world?"
2. Does your scenario involve Altruistic Service?
Altruistic Service is one of the tenets of Global Digital Citizenship. When students can apply curricular content to make a difference on a local, regional, national, or global level, it is directly relevant to them.
In my experience, one of the strongest connections is created when learners feel compassion. When we see someone helpless, in distress, or in pain, our “ego” quiets. There is a word in Japanese for this experience—sesshin. Literally translated, sesshin means to "cut the heart," and there's a chance you've felt the sensation before. It's the tingling at the tip of your heart when you become aware of the suffering of another.
Using scenarios that foster sesshin can be powerful gateways to relevance for a learner. It is when we're selflessly responding to the needs of others that we realize our highest purpose. Consequently, this is also when some of our most meaningful learning transpires.
3. Does it connect directly to their everyday lives?
If it is an issue that directly impacts them, there is relevance. It can be about a band they are crazy about, or about taking away fries from the cafeteria. Touch on something personal and you will provoke passion, opinion, and action.
4. What do your students think?
We don't involve our students enough in the process, and this must change. There are incredible insights to be gained by asking your students, so don't feel you have to know everything. The more we move the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student the better. It is, after all, their learning—they should be responsible for it.
It is both challenging and a little frightening for teachers to make the shift from teaching-as-talking to learning-by-doing. Nevertheless, teachers are transforming their classrooms every day simply by providing relevant learning connections to students. Both the teacher and the students are excited to be part of an environment that is engaging and relevant.
That's how learning becomes fun, and why shouldn't it be?
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Apr 3, 2019, updated September 19, 2021