“Process Education™ can
be defined as a performance-based philosophy of education which
integrates many different educational theories, processes,
and tools in emphasizing the continuous development of learning
skills through the use of assessment principles in order to
produce learner self-development” (www.pcrest.com/PC/PE/).
Process Education (PE) principles are founded on two basic beliefs.
First, no one should be marginalized: all learners have the capacity to
improve the quality of their learning. Every learner can learn to learn
better, regardless of his or her current level of achievement; one's
potential is not limited by current ability. Second, educators have a
responsibility to “raise the bar” in their profession: learning is
enhanced for all learners when educators help build learning skills,
create and improve quality learning environments, design solid coherent
curricula, and serve as effective facilitators of learning.
PE thrives within an assessment culture as
opposed to a culture of evaluation. In the traditional educational
model, the focus is upon evaluation—an educator judges a student’s
efforts and performance against an objective criteria with standards.
While this evaluation does provide a useful "snapshot" of performance,
it does not encourage the growth of that performance. Through
the careful use of assessment, however, students can continually improve
the quality of their performance.
The goal of PE is to
develop individuals into self-growers. That is, a learner who seeks to
improve his or her own learning performance; can create his or her own
challenges; serves as a leader and mentor to others; takes control of
his or her own destiny — "there are no bounds", and self-assesses and
self-mentors to facilitate his or her own growth.
an introduction to Process Education we first seek to explain the
educational theories and philosophies that are incorporated into PE and
further discuss some of the related efforts from the ideas and research
of educational philosophers. We then discuss the nearly 25 year
evolution of Process Education to its current state. We then discuss
the current impact that PE has made on higher education and finally
present possible avenues for PE to grow in the future.
education usually refers to the process of cultivating a set of
knowledge, skills, beliefs, attitudes, values, and character traits (Frankena,
1971). Traditionally, educational philosophies were “developed by
philosophers such as, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and John Locke–as
part of their philosophical systems, in the context of their ethical
theories” (Frankena, 1971). Lately, educational philosophies “tended to
be developed in schools of education in the context of what is called
foundations of education, thus linking it with other parts of the
discipline of education–educational history, psychology, and
sociology–rather than with other parts of philosophy” (Frankena, 1971).
For this reason different perspectives have dominated educational
philosophies. “At one time, the field was defined around canonical works
on education by great philosophers (Plato of ancient Greece, the
eighteenth-century Swiss-born Frenchman Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and
others); at other times, the field was dominated, in the United States
at least, by the figure of John Dewey (1859–1952) and educational
Progressivism" (Burbules & Raybeck, 2003).
The traditional prescriptive approach and most pervasive is “to offer a
philosophically defended conception of what the aims and activities of
teaching ought to be” (Burbules & Raybeck, 2003). “In some instances, as
in Plato's Republic, these prescriptions derive from an overall
utopian vision; in other instances, such as seventeenth-century English
philosopher John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education or
Rousseau's Émile, they derive from a fairly detailed
re-conception of what the day-to-day activities of teaching should look
like; in still other instances, such prescriptions are derived from
other social or moral principles, as in various Kantian views of
education (even though eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel
Kant himself had very little to say on the subject). These prescriptive
inclinations are in many respects what people expect from philosophy of
education: a wiser perspective, a more encompassing social vision, a
sense of inspiration and higher purpose. It is what people usually mean
when they talk about having a philosophy of education." (Burbules &
The newer extension to the traditional approach “can be comprised in
what was once called the "isms" approach (perennialism, idealism,
realism, Thomism, and so on)–the idea that a set of philosophical
premises could generate a comprehensive and consistent educational
program” (Burbules & Raybeck, 2003). For many years, working out the
details of these "philosophies of education" was considered the main
substance of the field, and the debates among the "isms" were typically
at the very basic level debates among fundamentally different
philosophical premises. An implication of this approach was that
disagreements tended to be broadly "paradigmatic" in the sense that they
were based on all-or-none commitments; one could not, of course, talk
about a synthesis of realist and idealist worldviews” (Burbules &
One of the reactions to
the “ism” of behaviorism falls under the umbrella of constructivism. Constructivism is built upon the cognitive theory of development of
Piaget and states that learning is an active, contextualized process of
constructing knowledge rather than an acquiring of knowledge. This
knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses
made about the environment. Piaget’s contribution was to identify
stages of development which other theorists built on. Vygotsky’s social
developmental theory, for example, focused more on the influence of
social interaction in the process of cognitive development. Jerome
Bruner also looked to environmental and experiential factors. His book,
The Process of Education, built on constructivism, especially the
structure of learning and learning readiness, leading to approaches such
as the spiral curriculum and discovery learning.
As an educational
philosophy Process Education is a synthesis of realist and
idealist worldviews, mostly under the general area of constructivism
with focus on performance. It integrates constructivism with continuous
development, performance measures, and assessment principles in order to
produce learner growth, promote critical thinking and continuous
improvement. In its core Process Education can be viewed as a
performance-based philosophy established on “Guided-Constructivism”.
Process Education, with
its foundation in the principles of constructivism, shares many of its
approaches with other approaches to curriculum development and
For example, Kolb spoke
of the benefits of learning from experience. He proposed a learning
cycle, starting from concrete experience with observation and reflection
on that experience moving to forming abstract concepts and testing these
concepts in new situations (Kolb and Fry, 1975). Experiential education
emerged from his ideas, which, according to the Association for
Experiential Education, is defined as, “a philosophy and methodology in
which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience
and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills
and clarify values” (www.aee.org).
Table 1 states the principles of experiential education according to the
Association of Experiential Education. Proponents of service learning
embrace many of these principles as well (www.servicelearning.org).
TABLE 1: Principles of Experiential Education (source
learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by
reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
Experiences are structured
to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be
accountable for results.
experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing
questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving
problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing
Learners are engaged
intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This
involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
The results of the
learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and
developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner
to the world at large.
The educator and learner
may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty,
because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
Opportunities are nurtured
for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
The educator's primary
roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting
boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety,
and facilitating the learning process.
The educator recognizes
and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
Educators strive to be
aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these
influence the learner.
The design of the learning
experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences,
mistakes and successes.
experiential education is the concept of discovery learning, also known
as inquiry-based learning, which builds on the ideas of Dewey, Piaget
and other constructivists. Dewey wrote (1938),
"There is an intimate and necessary relation
between the processes of actual experience and education". Through
discovery learning, the learner is placed in situations whereby he or
she calls on prior knowledge and past experience to discover new
information or skills. Discovery learning situations can range from
totally open to ones structured carefully by a facilitator to lead the
learner to a planned destination. "Emphasis on discovery in
learning has precisely the effect on the learner of leading him to be a
constructionist, to organize what he is encountering in a manner not
only designed to discover regularity and relatedness, but also to avoid
the kind of information drift that fails to keep account of the uses to
which information might have to be put."
like Tough and Knowles have applied these concepts to adults, using the
term self-directed learning. Self-directed learning has become
increasingly important as our rapidly changing world necessitates
lifelong learning well beyond the formal classroom. Knowles was an
especially strong advocate for the self-directed learner, arguing that
proactive learners enter into learning more purposefully and with
greater motivation, leading to increased retention (Knowles, 1975).
Process Education also
shares many components with problem-based learning, or PBL (www.pbl.org).
PBL was introduced as a term at McMaster University and was written on
extensively by Barrows and Tamblyn, who applied it to medical education.
In medical education, faculty were frustrated with the effectiveness of
traditional teaching methods. They found that graduates in their
internships after medical school were often not able to apply what they
had learned to the challenges they faced in the hospital.
Through PBL, students
are presented with an ill-defined problem. They work cooperatively to
solve the problem, accessing resources as needed. An important component
of PBL is that it is student-centered, with the students, rather than
the instructor, managing the problem-solving process. The faculty member
in PBL serves as a facilitator of that learning. Central to many of the
methods described above is the role of the faculty member as a
facilitator of the learning process. There are many strategies for
facilitative learning, with the main goal of moving the teacher away
from the center and locus of control. Many have written about the use of
cooperative learning in education. As Wong and Wong stated in 1998,
"Cooperative learning is not so much learning to cooperate as it is
cooperating to learn." As they and others have indicated, cooperative
learning extends far deeper than just placing students in groups. Two
elements are key, according to proponents of cooperative learning:
positive interdependence and group and individual accountability.
Another powerful method
is one of peer tutoring. Peer tutoring can occur between an expert and
a novice, but sometimes involves pairs where neither is the expert.
Although there are extensive research articles about the effectiveness
of peer tutoring, it has never emerged as a prevalent practice in the
More prevalent has been
the concept of mentoring. Traditionally, the mentor has been seen as
the “sage,” but more recent formulations have positioned the mentor as
more equal to the “learner” and one who also learns from the
interaction. The mentor does, however, engage with the learner in what
is sometimes terms “authentic assessment” or “performance-based
assessment. These strategies draw on the PBL and experiential learning
described above. Assuming a learner is placed at the center of the
learning experience, different strategies are needed to assess their
performance. The facilitator, or mentor, works with the student to
identify their level of performance. Often, rubrics are developed to
assist in the identification of these levels of performance.
The mentor, or
facilitator of learning, may also utilize instructional scaffolding to
assist the learner, based on the ideas of Jerome Bruner. In
scaffolding, the task is adjusted based on the current level of the
student. Bruner spoke of a spiral curriculum, meaning that the learner
is guided from level to level by carefully building on previous learning
experiences. Scaffolding is also an aspect of the approach of
differentiated instruction, where the teacher adjusts the learning
situation to the learner, rather than imposing a set curriculum on the
Tied to the approaches
of facilitated learning and cooperative learning is the valuing of the
learning community. Many have looked to the writings of Paulo Freire who
articulated the importance of dialogue, with dialogue meaning not one
person acting on another, but people working with each other in
All of these efforts
are built upon the ideas and research efforts of many educational
philosophers and practitioners. In the next section on process
education, you will see the parallels to these efforts. The primary
difference, however, will be in the level of comprehensiveness and the
structures that proponents of process education have developed to
implement its principles.
The Evolution of Process
In 1985, Pacific Crest began introducing its software, PC Solve,
to institutions of higher education across the country. They conducted
small workshops illustrating how students were able to independently
learn this software by processing the information presented within the
software’s help system. The students were to read this information
critically in order to utilize and gain an understanding of the given
examples. To succeed, the students needed to take risks and try things
out. Through the use of analysis and synthesis they would apply the
appropriate tools to the problems presented. Finally, Pacific Crest
demonstrated (to the faculty observing) how students were able to
utilize generalizations and transfer skills to apply what they were
learning to new situations. Within the following years, Pacific Crest
added reflection and self-assessment to this process so that the
meta-cognition of what was happening was apparent to the students
themselves. These informal self-assessments allowed the students to
reflect on their learning which helped to improve their future learning.
Between 1989 and 1990 Pacific Crest conducted an empirical study of 22
colleges from across the country. These institutions included an
engineering college, a business college, a women’s college, a highly
selective research university, as well as several liberal arts, state
and technical colleges. At each institution a random sample of
seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen were selected by faculty and
a competition was set up pitting the seniors against each of the other
three class levels. The students were asked to perform different
challenging tasks that required them to think about information
critically, process it and transfer it to new situations. The faculty
observed their students perform for this 90 to 120 minute period. By the
end, the faculty were very frustrated and often very disappointed with
their seniors, because the seniors performance was not significantly
different from that of the freshmen. This convinced Pacific Crest that
current practices within higher education were not helping students
develop life-long learning skills given that their learner performance
was not significantly different over the four years of college.
This research helped Pacific Crest develop two key resources. The first
was the Learning Process Methodology (LPM). The LPM models how to learn
about something using key steps. Faculty could implement the LPM to
assist them in teaching students how to learn. Second, Pacific
Crest began the Classification of Learning Skills. This list identified
over 250 transferable skills that could be used to enhance any learning
context. The list includes skills such as listening, persisting,
transferring, and articulating an idea.
In 1991, Pacific Crest held its first “Problem Solving across the
Curriculum” conference. The conference was attended by over 100 faculty
from various disciplines. The faculty set out to define a set to
practices and approaches that would empower students to succeed. Many of the conversations regarding these practices lasted until the
early hours of the morning. These discussions were the beginning
development of the philosophy of Process Education and inspired an
annual meeting for this conference.
These practices and
approaches were first implemented in 1994 at the Learning to Learn Camp.
This camp was geared toward the “at-risk” population in Higher
Education. The goal was to prove that all students could perform up to
the college’s expectations and graduate with success. In just one week,
all parties involved in the first Learning to Learn Camp understood how
powerful Process Education was. They observed how it had transformed
individual lives even though the supporting practices that currently
exist for these camps were, for most part, at a beginning level of
In 1994, Betty Lawrence
and Dan Apple presented the paper “Education as a Process” at the
International Teaching Effectiveness Conference. It received very
positive reviews and later that fall, it became the first official
articulation of “Process Education” by Pacific Crest. The ten Principles
of Process Education were written and with only small changes still
exist as the underlying principles behind PE. These principles in the
current format are listed below.
TABLE 2: Principles of Process Education
Every learner can learn to learn better, regardless of current level of
achievement; one’s potential is not limited by current ability.
Although everyone requires help with learning at times, the goal
is to become a capable, self-sufficient, lifelong learner.
An empowered learner is one who uses learning processes and
self-assessment to improve future performance.
Educators should assess students regularly by measuring accomplishments,
modeling assessment processes, providing timely feedback, and
helping students improve their self-assessment skills.
Faculty must accept fully the responsibility for facilitating student
To develop expertise in a discipline, a learner must develop a specific
knowledge base in that field, but also acquire generic, lifelong
learning skills that relate to all disciplines.
In a quality learning environment, facilitators of learning (teachers)
focus on improving specific learning skills through timely, appropriate,
and constructive interventions.
Mentors use specific methodologies that model the steps or activities
they expect students to use in achieving their own learning goals.
An educational institution can continually improve its effectiveness in
producing stronger learning outcomes in several ways: (1)
By aligning institutional,
course, and program objectives; (2) By investing in faculty development,
curricular innovation, and
performance measures; (3) By embracing an assessment culture
A process educator can continuously improve the concepts, processes, and
tools used by doing active observation and research in the
Current Impact of
Through the use of
these 10 principles, Process Education is transforming Higher Education
by empowering faculty, students, and administrators. To date, Pacific
Crest has visited more than 1,800 colleges and universities, facilitated
faculty development for more than 20,000 educators, and worked with more
than 25,000 students in classroom situations. Pacific Crest currently
offers 22 different types of professional development institutes as well
as customized workshops.
To assist the
facilitation and demand for PE workshops, Pacific Crest has currently
established eight Regional Professional Development Centers across the
United States. These Centers are dedicated to transforming the quality
of teaching and learning in different areas of the country, leading to
increased student retention and success at all levels. Each development
center hosts three different faculty development institutes each year,
as part of its commitment to transforming the quality of teaching and
learning in Higher Education. An individual center has the opportunity
to choose its own events, unique to the needs, culture, and individual
goals of each college. Area colleges are invited to attend each
institute in order to bolster the collaborative relationships among
neighboring colleges (www.pcrest.com).
Pacific Crest’s view of
the interrelatedness of PE within higher education has evolved over the
past 25 years and can currently be depicted through the Compass of
Research on all of the
aspects of PE depicted within the compass has been conducted. A
comprehensive resource on research within Process Education is the
Faculty Guidebook. The Faculty Guidebook enhances the
reader’s understanding of the various contexts of education and serves
as an authoritative resource that fosters transformation in the five
areas of development: professional, learner, intellectual,
institutional, and self development. More than 45 different authors
have shared their research on the best practices to improve both
teaching and learning within the fourth edition of the Faculty
Guidebook. This edition contains one hundred forty-six modules,
blending theory and practice in an easy-to-use format on such topics as
mentoring, assessment and evaluation, instructional design, program
assessment, and creating quality learning environments. It is very
accessible since it is packaged in short, comprehensive two to four page
modules, thus, making it is easy to quickly absorb research, apply, and
disseminate new teaching/learning knowledge and classroom innovations (www.pcrest.com).
Another result of
research within PE, particularly on effective learning techniques,
resulted in the development of Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). POGIL is a technique that creates a research based learning environment in
the classroom or lab where students learn course content as well as
learning process skills while working on guided inquiry activities in
small collaborative groups. The instructor facilitates this learning by
asking guiding questions to the teams as they work (www.pogil.com).
The individuals involved in Process education have formed a community of
practice, the Academy of Process Educators. According to the
Academy’s website (www.processeducation.org),
the Academy “drives transformational change in education by generating,
disseminating, and archiving research based on Process Education™
the advancement of scholarship in
teaching and learning
advocacy on key educational issues
building an Academy research
the professional development of
coaching and mentoring
[Furthermore], the Academy engages, supports, and collaborates with a
community of educators by:
delivering an annual conference
producing a selective, peer-reviewed
developing and endorsing position papers
modeling key elements of Process
facilitating members’ participation in
other professional venues”
Growing into the Future
The goal of Process
Education is to create self-growers. Pacific Crest, the Academy of
Process Educators, and the thousands of active users of PE are continually
refining and growing Process Education. Areas for growth in PE include,
developing technology that will assist educators in measuring performance;
understanding what PE tools are most highly utilized by practitioners and
determining if there is a pattern behind their usage; examining and
refining these tools to take into account students’ use and knowledge of
emerging technologies; and certifying PE skill usage through a Master’s
Pacific Crest has identified that technology for
“measuring performance to enhance performance” is one of the most
important transformational changes required by Higher Education. An
increasing number of arenas including federal and state governments,
accreditation agencies (both institutional and program) and other HE
stakeholders are requiring colleges to effectively use performance
measures to document and improve student learning and growth. Pacific
Crest has begun the process of creating the Performance Measurement and
Enhancement System/Results Measurement System (PMES) which will collect,
store, assess, and analyze measurement data to help make better decisions
for performance improvement. The data available through this system will
allow PE researchers to expand and certify its inventory of measures more
efficiently and effectively as well as enable the certification of new
Another area for
exploration and growth for process educators concerns emerging
technologies. Social networking not only presents a way for friends to
meet; it changes the way our youth learn. The concept of research has
morphed from a primarily solitary venture to an opportunity for one’s
network to share resources with each other. Linear thought is being
replaced by interconnected ideas. How will methodologies in Process
Education be transformed by this move away from linearity? Moreover, how
can process educators use social networking tools to facilitate learning
in this new generation of learners?
As we have discussed, there is a common theoretical foundation to Process
Education. The tools that are used by Process Educators, however, may be
as varied as the many disciplines they represent. Which tools are most
commonly used by process educators? Is there a pattern behind their
usage? That is, does a pattern exist to which tools are used by
particular disciplines? Are there a set of “best practices” that all
Process Educators use to significantly produce greater results than their
Finally, Pacific Crest is in the process of developing a certification of
process education through the development of a Masters Degree and
Certificate in Process Education offered through Northeastern University.
This Masters degree will bring Process Education into the K-12 curriculum
by advancing the performance of these teachers with the help of Pacific
Crest’s professional development institutes. As PE spreads into the K-12
level, what new insights will these new PE practitioners bring to Higher
The answers to these questions will help PE grow
and reach into new venues. If you are interested in helping to answer
these questions please or if you would like to obtain any more information
on Process Education, the following table will assist you in determining
the proper contact.
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