Questioning the Instruction Assumption: Implications for Education Policy and Practice
Karl F. Wheatley

This article examines and questions the instruction assumption, the widespread but usually-implicit assumption that student learning inherently requires direct and formal teacher instruction. The instruction assumption has profoundly influenced education in America and elsewhere, and several indicators of its broad acceptance are described. An alternative assumption is described, one that assumes that students are capable of playing an active role in initiating much of their own learning. Contrasting social contexts, personal experiences, goals, and intellectual traditions influence the acceptance of the instruction assumption or of the assumption favoring substantial student-initiated learning. Evidence is presented that challenges the instruction assumption, including evidence regarding early reading, cross-curricular effects, motivation, soft skills, 21st century skills, alternative schools, unschooling, and large-scale comparison studies. The article explores the possibility that formal instruction may often be counterproductive, and may be unnecessary for much learning that we often assume requires such instruction. Three real-world challenges that can help people transcend the instruction assumption are described: a re-examination of the meaning of test scores; the stories we tell ourselves about education; and reflections on our own non-instructional learning. The broad implication of this analysis is the need for a paradigm change in education.

Full Text: PDF     DOI: 10.15640/jehd.v4n1a4