LEARNING WITHOUT BORDERS:
NEW LEARNING PATHWAYS FOR ALL STUDENTS BY YONG ZHAO –
a book review by Erik Jahner, PhD
In Learning Without Borders: New Learning Pathways for all
Students, Yong Zhao outlines an ongoing and necessary paradigm shift in
education, offering new ways of thinking and examples from the frontier of
this trend. This is a timely piece that highlights the changes that were forced
upon us by the pandemic but have been in the works for a long time. The
pandemic exacerbated existing cracks in the system but also spotlighted new
opportunities. The old boundaries and structures of education need to be
transformed if we truly want to create pathways for the success of all
This book asks us to fundamentally reorganize our thinking about school and
to make it genuinely student-centered. Putting the student at the center of
education is a relatively common idea in education, but Yong gives a
contemporary angle enabling the reader to systematically build an
understanding of emerging roles teachers and students will play in this new
education. His book challenges the way we think about pedagogy by
integrating discussions of learning pathways, curriculum design, self-
directed learning, and existing technology.
At the core of the discussion is an education system that is built around
student needs that are determined in partnership with students. But before
we can challenge the practices of the system, flawed mindsets are challenged:
• schools do not prepare students for life — students are already living full
lives full of formative experiences, and schools do not transmit knowledge
• students have unprecedented access to knowledge and are learning all the
time without direct instruction.
Along with a changing mindset comes a need for an evaluation of the paths
we offer, schools do much more than prepare students for college. Schooling
should dynamically align with the individual student pathways, not group
students onto the same path. The current structured form of education
focuses on curriculum design without students; to support student
development, students need to be co-owners of curriculum design. The
curriculum should support the students in following their passions and
endeavors not in satisfying a list of government determined metrics.
Learning needs to be meaningful and Yong helps us ask the right questions
to direct our practice.
These changes are not only theoretical but are ready to implement now more
than ever before. They are scaffolded by ripening technology that has
enabled students to truly take the reins. This has led some to fear a
replacement of teachers, but the challenge in education he [proposes is not
how technology might replace teachers, but to understand what aspects of
learning will be done through technology and what aspects have to be done
directly by teachers. He helps the reader find their role in this shift by asking
us to question our widely held beliefs and adopt new roles. Students have
taken charge of their own learning and we as educators need to gain comfort
and facility in acting as life coaches, resource curators, community leaders,
and project managers. The challenge is to find the new emerging roles for
teachers and students in this new educational ecology.
While Yong critiques ways of thinking he also challenges established and
accepted norms. We have new types of students who are often enabled by
technology engaging the world in new innovative ways. We are completely
ignoring the student entrepreneur in our education approaches, for example.
We send these students the message that school does not fit them rather than
integrating their skills into the system. In another example, he points out
structural flaws in student groupings. We currently ignore basic principles of
development by grouping students by age not developmental level or
passions. And while the classroom has been seen as a fundamental unit
within a school, the new classrooms can span the globe. The book is filled
with ideas that help us consider the development of current systems.
One may initially think such a book is only for the progressive school and the
changes discussed are above the level of the teacher. However, the attentive
reader will notice suggestions for small and large changes that teachers can
make in their practice. It is not always about creating a new way, it is often
about accepting and becoming aware of the ways that are already practiced
in the world around us. Educators can use the principles outlined here to
empower students, design classrooms, and engage in ways of practicing
education that can affect change.
The crux of this argument is that the system is not addressing student needs
and radical redesign is necessary to align with systems of learning that are
already taking place. This book helps the reader see and become part of a
new education without borders.
Source: Learning and the Brain.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Erik Jahner, PhD
Erik Jahner examines how the socially situated and embodied mind develops the capacity for persistent
seeking behaviors. His inquiries have been at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, education, and
linguistics, which has allowed him to explore the bioecological development around interest, curiosity, and
information-seeking behaviors and experiences. On the pathway to understanding the neural dynamics of
resting-state connectivity associated with differences in interest actualization, Jahner currently seeks to better
understand the phenomenological and psychophysiological indicators of the emotions associated with
individual interest engagement.