My Experience With Swarm Learning in Education

Swarm Learning is a useful learning method that seeks to teach skills that improve ones own logic, reasoning, a faster transfer of learning, adaptability, pattern-recognition, and comfort with Ambiguity. These skills are very useful in the classroom but also transcend to the real world as well. Swarm Learning promotes creativity, trial and error, and constant feedback to improve the learning experience. This is a new age way of thinking that teaches a student or learner how to think rather than what exactly to think.

I can’t lie, my first few weeks in my college course “HHP 340: Test and Measurement” were pure chaos. It started with a lot of confusion and frustration. Swarm Learning seemed to be at the heart of my problems. Swarm Learning was introduced as a method of learning and a way our professor would be educating us. I’m a pretty vanilla guy when it comes to my education. I don’t like change, I don’t like feeling out of control, and I don’t like things that are entirely new when it comes to learning. I can get overwhelmed easily and get frustrated. I really tried to make a point this semester though to grow and get out of my comfort zone. Swarm Learning ended up being a great tool to help with that challenge. Swarm Learning at it’s core is a philosphy of, “change, adapt, evolve”. Swarm Learning seeks to provide instruction that is useful to the students needs through constant feedback. Feedback may actually be one of the most important parts of SL and without the student feedback the course can not change, adapt, or evolve. The constant use of feedback allows the course to have small changes over time which help meet the needs of students and better enhance their educational experience. In my experience, I saw this through the continuous use of survey monkeys and something known as a “feedback trail”. The feedback trails and survey monkeys would be completed each week with assignments to give our professor a better understanding of how we were progressing and what challenges we were facing. I gave feedback pretty early on, as I’m sure many others did as well, regarding having instructions posted as a text and not just videos. This was done nearly every week after giving that feedback and allowed me to understand our assignments and the tasks needing completion much more than before. My career will be in Physical Education as a High School P.E. teacher and I can see great value this concept of feedback and changing the class based off of my student’s needs.

Another concept integral to SL is the concept of the desire path’s. The typical method of teaching is to lay the path out for the students with lots of “learn this” or “do that”. SL is much more free flowing with students laying their own path through critical and creative thinking. A way I saw this play out was through the use of “Knowledge Trail’s” in a system called Plectica. This allowed our instructor to both see what we know but also, how we think and deconstruct ideas. Some students have very simple and straight forward ways of thinking about things, and some think in much more unique manners with thoughts all over the place. This always showed up in student’s maps.

Example of one of my Plectica Map’s this semester

SL also uses learning or thinking prompts that help categorize and guide your thoughts. This really helped in giving a framework to clearly think and then go into a deeper understanding on a subject. One of these framework tools SL utilizes is VMCL. VMCL is an acronym for Vision, Mission, Capacity, Learning. Vision is your desired future state or in essence, the goal. The mission is the repeatable actions that lead us toward our vision. Capacity is “systems which provide a readiness to execute the mission”, and the learning phase is the continuous improvement of the systems of capacity based on the feedback received. Using framework like this helped me immensely as a student. You are better equipped to define what the target is and how to get there. This allows a clearer understanding, in my opinion, of what you are trying to learn and then facilitating growth on that learning journey.

One of the final concepts of Swarm Learning that I found incredibly valuable was the collaborative side. This was discussed in the Swarm Learning textbook as “Tandem Running”. This is a learning technique used by ants but you saw it’s correlation within the class. Students are encourage to learn through a method where when they learn they are able to then teach their peers. When students maybe are having difficulty they are able to signal this by asking other students on the class FaceBook page or in feedback on assignments. This promotes creativity and almost eliminates the fear of failure. I learned in this class to stop worrying so much on if I’m doing something “perfectly” and to just simply try. I think that is what makes SL so beneficial. It’s not so much about learning the exact right answer, but having the confidence to jump out into the water and learn and try and not be so afraid of failing. Your fellow students will pull you up, and if desperately needed, your professor is there as well. It was pure chaos to start the semester and not much was explained. Then, I was able to meet and talk with other student’s and figure things out together. We helped each other grow and learn and it was incredibly valuable.

As class went on, I started seeing more and more of the lessons Dr. Schwandt was attempting to teach us through the methods of Swarm Learning. This was not like my typical classes of my professor just telling me the answer. Swarm Learning promoted critical thought, collaboration, and the unique opportunity for feedback. The ability to give feedback to both my peers, and my professor was a unique experience that I have greatly enjoyed. I truly think this helped in my education this semester, not just in this class but in my other classes well. I hope I am able to promote the lessons and concepts I’ve learned within Swarm Learning into my own classes one day.

References:

SCHWANDT, J. (2020). SWARM LEARNING: Teaching how to think, not what to think in health and human performance. S.l.: KENDALL HUNT.

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