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Sound advice for Monitor readers from Camelot's Merlin

In the movie "Camelot," King Arthur, distressed by the duties of his kingship , asked his boyhood teacher Merlin what to do to cheer himself up. Merlin's answer, "Learn something," provided the panacea Arthur needed. At Bunker Hill Community College's Learning Center, an educational Camelot if ever there was one, the advice to students as well as kings is the same -- learn something -- and in your own way, at your own pace.

The advice is backed up by one of the most extensive self-paced, individualized learning programs in the United States.

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The learning center at Bunker Hill must be viewed as a delivery system for offering individualized, personalized curriculum. It is not just a resource center writ large on a community college campus, with library, audiovisual materials, and media production facilities.

The center structures and monitors the learning experience for students, employing continuous enrollment and continuous student advancement, through set developmental and college credit courses. Student progress is measured on a unit-by-unit basis. It individually tailors for each student a modular mix of teaching and learning styles that leads toward successful completion of a given course in an open period of time.

The "Merlin" here is Dr. Elizabeth (Betty) J. Tenore. As comfortable with the learning theories of Aristotle, Ignatius Loyola, and Erasmus as she is with the more contemporary views of human behavior posited by B. F. Skinner, she demonstrates, in even the briefest acquaintance with her, a deep- seated conviction that "the educational system should be able to respond to the needs of each student on an individual basis."

And if there is one educational tenet that is sacrosanct at the center, it is that not all students can learn at the same rate and in the same way.

"Learning rates are as identifiable as fingerprints," she says, so an institution should "place control of the pace of learning where it best belongs, with the student."

The center also operates on the idea that people like to learn and that continued learning is its own best motivation for more learning.

Eighty percent of the students at Bunker Hill are educationally disadvantaged. "The critical variable for our student," Betty Tenore says, "is time." That is why the learning center employs mastery learning. The concept is to separate the barrier of time from learning. It places control of this critical factor in the hands of its students through self-paced learning modules. You study until you "master," and not for a set period of time.

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The learning center is geared to serve four types of student needs:

* A complete course with credit toward a degree independent of class time.

* Course enrichment assigned by teachers.

* Remedial instruction in math and English.

* Student enrichment not leading to a degree (my own status).

During the year 1979-80 about 1,700 to 1,800 students a month used the center. This is two- thirds of the regular student body at Bunker Hill. Not counting the capital outlay for the learning materials and equipment, but just the staffing and normal building maintenance, the center can serve a student for from $5 to $15 per contact hour.

The learning center may just be on the cutting edge of a significant change in the structure of education in America. Dr. Tenore feels that just as the traditional liberal arts student in the past was assumed to have taken a variety of basic courses, it can be taken for granted now that the well-rounded student will have been exposed to a number of different educational delivery systems, a mix of learning styles.

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