My daughter’s recently turned 3 years old, and has just moved from the pre-school where she was one of the oldest children to a new preschool for 3-4 year olds.  She’s having some trouble settling in, so I spent a few hours with her on Thursday morning settling her in.

The preschool teaches in the Montessori tradition, and while watching the children I was  struck by the experiential nature of montesorri education.  There are a range of learning activities that the children can choose from.  Many activities require little or no supervision.  The aim is for the child to explore the items involved in the activity, and they learn as a byproduct of this exploration.  It’s clear to the children when something needs to be corrected, as the activity is designed to make this clear.  Sometimes guidance from the teacher is beneficial, but often the child’s natural process of investigation is sufficient to provide all of the learning.

I’m intrigued by this idea within the context of online adult education, unfortunately Maria Montessori died in 1952 before completing her project to develop materials for adult learners.

Christina Stringher is involved in adult education in Italy (more specifically adult illiteracy).  In her paper MONTESSORI MATERIALS IN ADULT EDUCATION SETTINGS: HYPOTHESIS OF USE IN ITALIAN CTPs (2005), she discusses several reasons why a montessori approach may be useful in adult education.

  1. Frees the learner from a static, top-down teaching approach
  2. Allows self-expression, autonomy
  3. Avoids prescriptive subject learning
  4. The teacher acts as a facilitator rather than an authority
  5. Emphasis on experiential, research-based learning

Her proposed model for implementing Montessori-style education for adult learners is as follows

  1. Assess the entry level of the learner
  2. Consider the  types of tasks and knowledge domains which could benefit from Montessori materials (implying that not all learning will be best suited to montessori methods)
  3. Consider the role of the facilitator/tutor in presenting and discussing the use of the materials
  4. A self-evaluation method to enable participants to assess their level of competance

Stringher intends to implement an experiment based on the above approach to assess it’s efficacy.  It will be interesting to see how it goes.

The online context is well-suited to a range of self-directed modules/exercises that the students may choose to move through at their own pace.  There are some limitations to this model.  Our professional assocation requires specific competancies to be held by graduates, and it’s likely that other professional assocations have the same type of requirements.  This means that while we can provide some flexibility we cannot allow students to completely follow their own path of learning.

The ideas are intriguing to me however.  I will keep Maria Montessori’s ideas in mind when creating learning modules, and will attempt to make them self-directed and self-correcting where possible.