*The practicality of “less is more” in education

javaJessica wrote an inspiring article on “empowering students” in her blog. In there she highlighted the notion of “less is more” for empowering students to achieve their best where less direction and less control by the instructor will provide students with the opportunity and freedom to “explore, create, fail, recover and move within their own academic space”, the results of which is empowering and inspiring to the students.

I teach various courses in the web design industry and I have always strived to provide my students with the freedom to discover, create, share, make changes, improve and grow. Creativity is the core of the web design industry and therefore it is natural for me to cultivate this skill by giving them the freedom to explore and showcase their own creative ideas. So it felt good to know that others in the teaching profession believe in the “less is more” approach as well.

Having said that, the less is more concepts is not all that practical for base level courses such as when teaching a computer programming language. Here, students must first learn the syntax of the language in order for them to master expressions of algorithm. These requires learning a new way of thinking altogether because computer languages are very different from human languages; students usually struggle quite a bit to master this. It is equivalent to learning the grammar of the English language where there are words and rules that must be learned before one can construct a sentence.

In order to help students learn new ways of thinking in mastering these languages, I find that telling students exactly what to do, helps them learn the basics. Once they have learned the basics, at the next level of expertise, the “less is more” concept is more practical because students know the building blocks of the programming language and they can use that to express their own algorithms for creative problem solving. This is where they have fun with their own achievement of inventing little software machines that does something useful.

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