From Teaching to Learning -
A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education
By Robert B. Barr and John Tagg The article we are including originally appeared in the November/December 1995 edition of Change magazine. In the short time it has been out, it has created considerable discussion on educational list servs and has prompted numerous requests forreprints in newsletters. (Robert B Barr is director of institutional research and planning and John Tagg is associate professor of English at Palomar College, San Marcos California.)
The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. -Albert Einstein A paradigm shift is taking hold in American higher education. In its briefest form,the paradigm that has governed our colleges is this: A college is an institution that exists to provide instruction. Subtly but profoundly we are shifting to a new paradigm: A college is an institution that exists to produce learning. This shift changes everything. It is both needed and wanted. (See chart comparing two paradigms) We call the traditional, dominant paradigm the "Instruction Paradigm."Under it, colleges have created complex structures to provide for the activity of teaching conceived primarily as delivering 50-minute lectures-the mission of a college is to deliver instruction. Now, however, we are beginning to recognize that our dominant paradigm mistakes a means for an end. It takes the means or method-called "instruction" or "teaching"-and makes it the college's end orpurpose. To say that the purpose of colleges is to provide instruction is like saying that General Motors' business is to operate assembly lines or that the purpose of medical care is to fill hospital beds. We now see that our mission is not instruction but rather that of producing learning with every student by whatever means work best. The shift to a "Learning Paradigm" liberates institutions from aset of difficult constraints. Today it is virtually impossible for them to respond effectively to the challenge of stable or declining budgets while meeting the increasing demand for post secondary education from increasingly diverse students. Under the logic of the Instruction Paradigm, colleges suffer from a serious design flaw: it is not possible to increase outputs without a correspondingincrease in costs, because any attempt to increase outputs without increasing resources is a threat to quality. If a college attempts to increase its productivity by increasing either class sizes or faculty workloads, for example, academics will be quick to assume inexorable negative consequences for educational quality. Just as importantly, the Instruction Paradigm rests on conceptions of teachingthat are
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Barr and Tagg, From Teaching to Learning
increasingly recognized as ineffective. As Alan Guskin pointed out in a September/October 1994 Change article premised on the shift from teaching to learning, "the primary learning environment for undergraduate students, the fairly passivelecture-discussion format where faculty talk and most students listen, is contrary to almost every principle of optimal settings for student learning." The Learning Paradigm ends the lecture's privileged position, honoring in its place whatever approaches serve best to prompt learning of particular knowledge by particular students. The Learning Paradigm also opens up the truly inspiring goal that eachgraduating class learns more than the previous graduating class. In other words, the Learning Paradigm envisions the institution itself as a learner- over time, it continuously learns how to produce more learning with each graduating class, each entering student. For many of us, the Learning Paradigm has always lived in our hearts. As teachers, we want above all else for our students to learn and...