Becoming a Learner Summary

Matthew L. Sanders

Becoming a Learner

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Becoming a Learner Summary

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Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education (2012) is an educational guide by American professor Matthew L. Sanders. Outlined in five parts, the guide aims to challenge the notion of conventional learning methods, rethinking new ways of optimizing one’s education. Primarily centered on students preparing for college, the guide also attempts to tailor learning methods to individuals based on who they are and their capabilities. By encouraging creativity and bucking convention, Sanders sets out to empower new college enrollees by putting them on their most promising path to success. Sanders is a communications professor at Utah State University and holds a PhD in communications from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Sanders begins by noting how job employers often hire college students outside of their respective disciplines, putting emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and personal capacity. For example, Sanders notes how news agency directors do not hire communication majors, but rather philosophy, political science, and English majors. According to Sanders, “job skills are necessary but not sufficient.” Instead, students should focus on fostering who they are so that job recruiters will hire them not based on specific job skills, but due to their ability to learn.
Sanders suggests that students get from college what they put into it. They should focus less on what they do, and more on how they do it. Instead of focusing on job skills, what major to declare, or how a certain course may apply to our future, students must focus on who they are becoming—it’s not what they do so much as what they become. A diligent work ethic and how they comport themselves in the face of challenges help define who they become. Sanders also argues that merely getting by in college to earn a degree will not help students become learners, nor help them to be successful later in life. It is not so much about the degree, but “the cumulative effects of your education that matters.”
Sanders lays out three “realities” as to “why becoming matters.” The first is that “your degree doesn’t guarantee you a good job.” It used to be this way, but not anymore. Many will struggle to find gainful employment right out of school, often taking internships and low paying jobs. The second reality is that students will forget much of what they have learned in college. The point is not to retain everything learned, but to become comfortable with the process of learning. The third reality is that many of the job skills acquired in college will be obsolete by the time students enter the workplace. Sanders goes on to outline “outcomes of becoming.” He includes creativity, critical thinking, communication skills, and character as the primary pillars of becoming a learner. According to Sanders, these qualities will help prevent against an obsolete job skill set.
Sanders warns against the outdated thinking that college is a place for vocational training. According to Sanders, college is a place to help students “mature into capable, contributing members of society, who can vote, govern themselves, and contribute to the common good.” To become a learner, students must view college as a place for education as opposed to a place for vocational training. Also, students must fight against the perception of obligation, instead, approaching college as an opportunity. By viewing college as an obligation, the work will feel like a difficult chore to get through. By viewing college as an opportunity, students can approach the work with gratitude, energy, and determination. Sanders encourages students to think about life post-graduation, and how it is a mistake to think of oneself as complete once college ends. If approached the right way, college will allow one to become an even greater learner after graduation.
Sanders’s main argument is that the most important thing students will learn will not be graded. Grades matter far less than the results of learning. Grades are immediate results, learning is a long-term measuring stick for success. Sanders also argues that knowledge is interconnected, and that to be successful, one must have knowledge in an array of subjects to be viewed as valuable. Students should take responsibility for personal learning by disallowing teachers to do the work for them. This may require a relationship (another principle) with teachers, like-minded students, peers, etc. By bouncing ideas off another person, a greater discourse can be had on any subject and a greater sense of learning can be achieved. Sanders touches on three additional principles to learning, which include being courageous, humility, and not taking shortcuts.
In his closing argument, Sanders reiterates that college is not about learning a specific set of skills, but about actively becoming a learner. By focusing less on the courses passed and grades accumulated, the real value in college comes from the collective experiences and personal achievements that shape one. While there will always be obstacles to higher education—rising tuition, cost of books, large class sizes, etc.—the onus to becoming a learner is on the student to “create for yourself an excellent education.” Putting these ideas into action will vary depending on the individual, but as long as students focus on the person they have become because of their education, they will have the tools to flourish in the real world. Sanders concludes by declaring that this is not the end, but the beginning of a new conversation. By using the principles laid out in the book, Sanders encourages every college student to embrace becoming a learner.