Monday, November 17, 2014

Proving Performance vs. ImProving Learning

Chris Watkins' article, Research Matters: Learning, Performance and Improvement, is about the relationship between learning in schools and performance in schools. Effective learners understand how they learn with strengths identified as metacognition, self-monitoring, and self-regulation. Learners vary orientations between learning and performance where there is a concern for proving (Performance) or improving (Learning) orientation. We adapted and summarized key components in Watkins’ research in the table located here. 

In his research, Watkins defines the term "learning" with a range of meanings. Most of us only know what we know about learning from our own experiences as a student: "being taught." Research in the 20th century highlighted learning as a change in knowledge through a process of knowledge construction. Watkins explains how the social context of learning as a shared phenomenon is important. Views of learning are present, yet he states about the long-standing culture of classrooms is "teaching is telling, learning is listening, knowledge is subject matter taught by teachers and found in books."

Watkins shares that in England and other countries including the United States, there has been a focus on performance tests for learners, performance ratings for schools, and performance management strategies for teachers. In most cases, teachers are held accountable and responsible for what learners learn. This is a concern from educators around the world "that managing teachers on the basis of such performance has lowered teacher morale" and led to some of our best and brightest to leave the profession. 

When a learner focuses on learning orientation, it means "the motivation to prove one's competence is immaterial without the motivation to improve one's competence." Watkins provides an instrument to determine one's learning orientation and compares how performance is achieved in other domains such as sports and business. 

Success in a competitive context is not defined by
a competitive attitude but a learning attitude.

The evidence in Watkins' research concludes that a focus on learning can enhance performance, where a focus on performance alone can depress performance. With traditional instruction, the climate in the classrooms becomes more performance oriented over years of schooling. 

A performance-oriented environment focuses on looking good rather than learning well.

The evidence in this research demonstrates that learning about learning is an educationally important strategy that improves performance. 


We highly recommend you to visit and download this article, Research Matters: Learning, Performance and Improvement. 

We are honored to know Chris Watkins, have learned so much from his research and encourage you to read and review his work around meta-learning along with all of his research at Watkins' site.  Read more on this post from Watkins: Making Sense of Learning.


Chris Watkins was a Reader Emeritus at the Institute of Education, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Faculty Member. Chris has been involved in projects with a range of schools on meta-learning and learning about learning, effective learning, classroom learning, and teachers and school learning. This work culminates in the idea of classrooms as learning communities. Since, 2005, Chris has been an independent consultant and project leader with a range of schools, mainly in the London area, but also way beyond London.  

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