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Why Clock Hours ≠ Learning

For the non-math lovers of the group, the symbol ≠ means “does not equal.” I felt I better explain before moving forward with my premise. You might have suspected it meant something in “new math” or a common core nonsense math term that you wouldn’t understand until your child made you figure it out. But I digress. . .


For years, you sat in classrooms where the educators in the know insisted that you must be there to learn. . .and you must be there a certain amount of time (usually from 8 am until 2 pm for 180 days of a normal school year). Then, if you went to college, they (the educators in the know) insisted that you must get roughly 120 semester hours to get a bachelor’s degree. That 120 hours equated to 1 clock hour in a classroom for roughly 16 weeks per semester hour, not to mention the hours you spent outside the classroom on homework, etc. So, for a college degree, you had to be in the classroom for about 1,920 hours (and then homework and studying on top of that).


But let’s be honest, weren’t there some classes where you just got it in about 10 minutes of lecture or discussion? Weren’t there some classes where the teacher or professor just droned ON and ONNNNN and you were bored out of your skull counting ceiling tiles, imagining various beach scenes that would contribute to your inner sense of peace? Or, weren’t there some classes where you just could NOT care less about the material. You didn’t want to learn. You were there to get a grade. . .for “breathing while in class,” not learning. As one dear friend puts it, in the traditional, semester-based class (i.e. clock hours = learning model) “students have time to get lazy” (Personal Communication, Ray Schulz).


Conversely, weren’t there those classes that you sat through, on the edge of your chair, trying vainly to figure out the concepts to no avail. You could have spent years in the class working on those concepts and never really got the understanding on them. I can think of a number of topics that fit this bill for me (significant figures from chemistry; some of the doctoral level statistical concepts; logic of the democrat party; etc.). In some cases, I have been known to just pack up my stuff and call it a day when the understanding was just not there.


In both of these instances of the time it takes to learn something, time is not the issue. Certainly, there are times when “soak time” is needed. That is, on certain constructs, some people may need more time to “soak” in the ideas and information of the topic to understand. That is particularly normal for quantitative topics that are difficult to follow. However, the time is not a constant. It is a variable. It is different for each individual.


So,if clock hours doesn’t equal ( ≠ ) learning, what does? Ummm. . .actual learning maybe?!?


Western Governors University (www.wgu.edu) implemented and received accreditation for a competency-based model of education. They convinced accreditors that clock hours were not the only things to equal learning. It was the outcomes that were measured instead of the seat time in the class: were the students actually able to do the things that they were supposed to do when they completed the degree.


As educators, this is what we must be about: student learning. We should not rely on the sometimes punitive clock hour to show that a learner has gained something from the class. We, as educators, need to be allowed to develop programs of study (and actually develop them) that produce learning as based on what students learn, not on how long they looked at our mugs. I’m looking at you accrediting bodies, U.S. Department of Education, and stuck in the model, educators in “the know.”