Kelly Burgener's thoughts on deepening learning and teaching through the principles of the Learning Model.

January 31, 2013
Writer: Kelly Burgener

Many of us who were here in 2004 will remember this statement made by Elder Bednar on several occasions - I paraphrase: I sense we understand much about what it means to learn by study but I believe we know much less about learning by faith (DC 88:118). Soon after, Elder Bednar left campus with that intriguing thought (challenge?) still hanging in the air.                       

This idea of learning by faith took prominence as President Clark challenged the faculty to define a new model for learning and teaching that could assist students and faculty towards higher level engagement and deeper learning. This model would prove to be (among other things) an important attempt to unite the power of study and faith.    

For most, this was a heady time as faculty shared, discussed, and refined principles and techniques that had blessed their teaching and their students' learning. Perhaps like most of you reading this, I was not directly involved with the majority of this work, but I watched the process unfold and was blessed by both the dialogue and the results.

This learning by study and by faith effort and the Learning Model itself were coming about during an extremely busy time at BYU-Idaho: the creation of bachelor degrees and upper-division courses, four-year accreditation, the implementation of the new calendar, and the introduction of more active learning strategies. And on top of this frenzy of activity came our beginning efforts to build a new online structure, which effort put many faculty into overload. It goes without saying that time for experimentation and reflection during this period was a luxury that few could enjoy. But now with important changes and opportunities underway or in the near horizon, I hope that will change.    

You may personally not have experienced any change in your pace yet, but a number of factors are coming together that are designed to slow our collective pace some: the reduction of (and in many cases the elimination of) overload, a new annual teaching load, expanded professional development opportunities, TA support, and the streamlining and simplification efforts for program curricula.      

At the five year mark of the official introduction of the Learning Model, it is fitting that we catch our breath and take time now to "ponder and prove" what we have experienced during this transformational period at BYU-Idaho. President Clark has invited each of us in the September 2012 Fall General Faculty meeting to begin a series of conversations and studies on the principles of the Learning Model. He said, . . .    

The Learning and Teaching Council has planned a year-long series of activities focusing on the principles of the Learning Model so that we can more deeply not only understand them, but learn how to practice them and apply them to our work. As we continue to follow these principles [of the Learning Model] and deepen our application of them, we will witness a marked increase of deep learning. I know that is true.    

During Fall semester, we inaugurated this effort with an introductory Brown Bag where members of the Learning & Teaching Council discussed the efforts that were being made institutionally. They also shared practical ideas that could be done within departments and small groups. We have heard of great work planned or underway by chairs and deans toward this effort. The Learning & Teaching Council has made many plans to host a number of activities throughout the upcoming semesters. And please don't wait for someone to instigate something for you. Feel free to organize any activity that fits your needs best - pose a question to a teaching team you serve on, start an email conversation or blog, organize a lunch with colleagues, implement a study in one of your classes that tests concepts found in the principles of the Learning Model, or read a book on learning and the gospel - the opportunities are myriad!    

I believe that acting, participating in some way is the key that will open doors of insight for you. Let me share a bad example of that with you.    

I had the experience of being given an important invitation that I did not chose to accept. As you will remember, President Hinckley invited all members of the Church in (date) to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. At the time the invitation was given, I was in the Book of Helaman and, in my typical get-it-checked-off way, I was not inclined to turn around and start all over again. Besides, I rationalized, it was all very fresh in my mind and I felt confident that I could join in any conversation that might come up with others.    

But it soon became apparent that I was not having the same experience that my wife and others were having. Because of their investment (not to mention their obedience to follow the prophet), an outpouring of the Spirit was deepening their love for and testimony of this great book of scripture. I could tell that great things were occurring around me that I was not privileged to experience. I ended my reading of the Book of Mormon that year at the same time everyone else did, but in the end, the great power of the experience had passed me.    

With that poor example, I would invite you to be more wise than I was in that instance. Join whole heartedly in this potentially significant opportunity. Let the Spirit teach you through the experiences and insights of your colleagues and through your own contributions and reflections. As both scholars and disciples, we have the opportunity to learn, apply, observe, reflect, and then share what we experience in ways that truly will deepen and expand the vitally important doctrine of learning by faith.    

President Clark has promised that as we participate in this effort, we will "deepen our application" and "we will witness a marked increase of deep learning."    

As we collectively gather our experiences this year and onward, we will be privileged to add to a treasury of knowledge that I believe heaven has in reserve to bless lives - our students' lives, our lives, and the whole Church - at a very significant time. Thank you in advance for all you have contributed and all you will yet contribute to this great work!    

Kelly Burgener
Associate vice-president for instruction