Guiding successful higher education learning journeys - lessons from Mister Miyagi.

by Richard Dando


Guiding successful higher education learning journeys - lessons from Mister Miyagi.

~ Supporting learners ~

JULY 9th 2021· by Richard Dando

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I watched iconic 80’s film Karate Kid with my children recently and, in a curious moment of left field self-reflection, I found myself contemplating what we as educators can learn from the journey of the main character, Daniel, and his relationship with his mentor - the legendary Mister Miyagi. For those of you unacquainted with this classic film, Daniel is a young man on a mission to win a karate competition. But, being a Hollywood film, it goes without saying that the odds are stacked against him and there is, of course, a girl to impress. The early days of Daniel’s learning journey don’t see him developing a PebblePad Action Plan or completing the first section of his digital PebblePad workbook (current karate skills audit), instead it mostly sees him painting Mister Miyagi’s fences and washing and waxing his cars. Daniel works tirelessly but eventually becomes frustrated as he struggles to connect his ability to wax a car to a perfect shine with how it will help him achieve the above-mentioned goals (win the competition and impress the girl). The method in Mister Miyagi’s pedagogical genius is uncovered when it transpires that rather than developing repetitive strain injury, Daniel’s relentless washing, waxing and painting has given him a suite of perfectly honed karate moves.

So, if you’re still with me, what can we learn from Karate Kid that relates to higher education strategy today? Well, three important things, actually.

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Students place their trust in higher education institutions to provide the support to get them through their individual learning journeys.

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Daniel trusts his mentor implicitly and puts his faith in his expertise to guide him (in spite of Mister Myagi’s unorthodox pedagogies). The lesson? Students place their trust in higher education institutions to offer expert educators and the support to get them through their individual learning journeys. 

Building student trust requires universities to stay closely connected to their students. Strategies such as engaging students in reflective practice, and incorporating authentic assessment with dialogic feedback into the learning and assessment activities, go a long way to ensuring that educators remain in communication with their students. Having insight into learner progress - at every stage and whether they be on or off campus - allows universities to monitor and intervene when necessary with additional support, thereby ensuring that trust is maintained. 

From scaffolding and structuring the learning to offering ongoing support and guidance along the way, our Learning Journey Guide provides insights into how universities around the globe are supporting student success.

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Mister Miyagi knew precisely what pedagogies and approaches he wanted to employ to get Daniel where he needed to be. Daniel’s success was underpinned by more than studying theory and content - he engaged in a constant cycle of planning, doing, reflecting and expert feedback. The lesson? While Higher education institutions may exhibit the same pedagogical ambitions as Mister Miyagi, with student learning taking place across so many different contexts, both on and off campus, these are not easy ambitions to realise. 

Students need opportunities to refine their skills and rehearse their application before being asked to demonstrate them in authentic assessment contexts, such as work integrated learning or placement. Supporting learners to connect theory to practice and make connections between disparate learning events is a great start. Providing them with a space in which they can keep all of their plans, records, reflections and achievements, and that also allows educators to provide guidance and feedback, makes it possible to achieve these pedagogical ambitions.

For universities to nurture success they need the tools to engage learners in purposeful and ongoing student-centred activities to help them plan for, reflect on, and curate and showcase evidence of their learning and achievements. You can learn more in our Student-centred Learning Guide. 

Image shows a snapshot of the PebblePad Student-centred Learning  Guide
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Daniel began his journey with his end goal clearly in mind, despite not clearly understanding the steps he needed to take to get there - hence his reliance on Mister Miyagi to light the way. The lesson? While university educators may have clear oversight on the steps to success, communicating these steps to a student, plotting and scaffolding their learning trajectory, and ensuring they remain on track, are not always so straightforward. 

With the destination in sight, the key is enabling learners to surface the journey via articulating their learning processes and ongoing development, along with a clear understanding of the pathway. Having this visible for both students and educators ensures that appropriate and timely support can be provided, with the aim being to increase learner independence over time.

If you're attending #BbWorld21 be sure to seek out Team PebblePad. No karate lessons, unfortunately, but we will be there talking eportfolio, reflective practice, experiential learning, authentic assessment and more, as we showcase how PebblePad is bolstering LMS capability to transform the higher education learning journey.

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Richard is PebblePad's Head of Brand & Communications and joined Team PebblePad as a consultant in 2012 after working in a range of L&D roles in the charity and technology sector. On any given day you're likely to find Richard with a sketch pad and more coloured pens than you can wave a stick at, leading on all things creative and strategic on the communications and brand front. Richard is super passionate about all things PebblePad, and spreading the word about PebblePad and the amazing things it can do really has become his technology baby. Outside of work, he’s the proud dad of two happy, human children.