I’m not quite sure how I missed this wonderful table from David Warlick. Take a look below. Are your local schoolchildren ‘students’ or ‘learners?’ If they’re not ‘learners,’ what can/should you do about it as an educator, parent, community member, and/or concerned citizen?


  Students Learners
Relationship with educators Students are employees, required to obediently follow instructions. Learners are citizens with a vested interest in the learning society.
Relationship with other “Students” Students are competitors Learners are collaborators
Motivation Obligation: Students are culturally obliged to work for the teacher & for compensation (below) Responsibility: Learners are motivated by an understood and realized “value” in their work, especially when it is valuable to others.
Compensation Institution defined grades and gateways to college (another institution) and a good job (another institution) A sense of ongoing accomplishment that is not delivered but earned, and not symbolic but tangible and valuable — an investment.
Mode of Operation Compliant, group-disciplined, objective-oriented, and trainable Persevering, self-disciplined, group- and goal-oriented, resourceful, and learning in order to achieve rather than achieving learning.
Why? Compelled Curious
Equipped ..with packaged knowledge and tools for recording packaged knowledge — prescribed and paced learning ..with tools for exploring a networked variety of content, experimenting with that content, and discovering, concluding, and constructing knowledge — invented learning
Assessment Measuring what the student has learned. Measuring what the learner can do with what has been learned.

Some additional questions worth considering…

  • How does an emphasis on being a ‘student’ rather than a ‘learner’ impact children’s motivation for school tasks?
  • How does an emphasis on being a ‘student’ rather than a ‘learner’ impact children’s future success as workers or postsecondary students?
  • How does an emphasis on being a ‘student’ rather than a ‘learner’ impact children’s willingness as adults to challenge the establishment or the status quo, whether those be political, economic, or otherwise?
  • Rhetoric aside, do most adults really want children to be ‘learners’ in the truest sense of the word? Or do they just want them to be compliant and trainable?
  • Being a ‘learner’ implies (to me, at least) the need to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. What do we do with children who ask questions in school, particularly those that challenge how we do things? (Why…?)

Image credit: Atlas, it’s time for your bath