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Is Tara Westover an ‘Expert Learner’?

Is Tara Westover an ‘Expert Learner’?



 “Now Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1


Tara Westover wrote a book called Educated. She brings forth many topics through her own story of living isolated from the education system. As a Mormon living in the Idaho Mountains, Tara grew up differently than most children, working with her family while awaiting an apocalypse. She had little contact with the outside world and yet went on to obtain her PhD through Cambridge. This story should bring forth many questions on the academic value of our K-12 education systems; however, today I will only ask one. As a veteran teacher beginning a new professional journey in the area of On Line Blended Learning for K12, how do I become an ‘Expert Learner’ (CAST, 2018) and facilitate learners like Tara Westover?

  Starry Night

TPD Research

Generally, Teacher Professional Development (TPD) is a challenging area for administrators and often just another item on the ever-growing list of responsibilities a teacher has. In their research, Improving teacher professional development for online and blended learning: a systematic meta-aggregative review, Philipsen, Tondeur, Roblin and Vanslambrouck (2019) examine the components of teacher professional development with a targeted focus on Online Blended Learning (OBL). This study explores the components of Teacher Professional Development in relation to Online Blended Learning. The synthesized findings led to six action recommendations:

1. design and develop a supportive TPD program and environment for  OBL
2. acknowledge the existing context regarding OBL
3. address teacher change associated with the transition to OBL
4. determine the overall goals and relevance of TPD for OBL
5. acknowledge teacher professional development strategies associated with the transition to OBL
6. disseminate knowledge, skills, and attitudes about OBL and evaluate the TPD


In an effort to understand the application of this research I began comparing the findings with relevant connections from a ground level teacher perspective. The chart below aligns aspects of the TPD recommendations with processes or concepts carried out as a professional teacher.

Chart 1

Universal Learning Design has a framework for developing Expert Learners that led me to aligning those concepts with the research.

Chart 2


Professional Identity

Although the research does not address education philosophy at the start it can be inferred that in order to be purposeful with your intended process one would need to be clear on what your foundational beliefs are around education and learning. In the research by Philipsen, Tondeur, Roblin and Vanslambrouck, TPD was explored with a primary focus on OBL and stated “that a possible difference [between general and OBL TPD] can be found at the personal level of the teacher, particularly the teachers’ professional identity and role” (2019). TPD for OBL had a stronger emphasis on the ‘how’ of teaching and interrelated teacher professional identity. Differences between general TPD and OBL TPD was the explicit topic of professional identity when transitioning to teaching with OBL. Currently it seems a use of OBL in K12 acts as a textbook and teacher substitute, which closely aligns with our current roles and identities as teachers. As Online Blended Learning evolves to possess more agency in delivering knowledge and facilitating experience, it may be alongside the evolution of the teacher-student roles and identities as well. OBL is new and yet to be fully developed to its potential. As teachers return to exploring core education philosophy and purpose, OBL has the capacity to be a means in facilitating new ways of education.  As professional identities and roles transform so will the way in which we use OBL for maximizing learning.


Full Circle

Holistically speaking, in schools “Teachers are the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated and rules of conduct: enforced” (Dewey, 1929). In OBL, the teacher is more of a guide and technology is the agent. This shift requires further exploration in the roles and identities of teachers and students along with the role of relevant experiences that connect knowledge with the ‘doing in life’. It is interesting to acknowledge that much of Dewey’s work has become more relevant today than ever and in some ways has come full circle with first and foremost the teacher asking ‘who am I and what is my purpose’ in context of the profession. In this equation is a ‘shifting’ to the essential question in education being from the ‘outside in’ to ‘inside out’.


Nested Dolls


The history of educational theory is marked by opposition between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without; that it is based upon natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure. (Dewey, 1929)


Child Efficacy through Teacher Efficacy

The potential of Online Blended Learning is exciting and frightening. It has brought us back to basic questions as we redefine ourselves as teachers and our systems of process. Can we, in reviewing the deeper questions, facilitate the return of individual efficacy to see a completely new way of learning and address the challenges of the day together experientially and academically? In searching for a way to provide individual efficacy for the child, will we find teacher efficacy that will provide significance to our work in spite of the social and political battles that rage beyond the proverbial classroom? The cacophony interwoven within our systems can inhibit learning and distributes our energies in oppositional forms. In one of my exercises in translating research, I came across the work of John Hattie. This researcher synthesized data to create education analysis in graphic forms. The chart below was created from this information and shows that teacher efficacy is the top of the list for effective learning.


Visible Learning plus - The Visible Learning research synthesizes findings from 1,500 meta-analyses of 90,000 studies involving 300 million students, into what works best in education.

Chart 3


In my own quest towards becoming an ‘Expert Learner’ who is “purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic and goal directed” (CAST, 2018), I have many questions. My hope would be to learn how to access these attributes then facilitate through OBL those same attributes where individual unique experiences can meet with other perspectives in exploration. Tara Westover comes from the education of experience and has succeeded in the education of academia; two worlds vastly different and coming at odds with one another in the form of social and political challenges. Tara Westover’s story is one of hope not only for individual efficacy but also for the efficacy of education.



…you know that old idea from John Dewey that education is to give a child command of themselves and to give you a perspective…it gives you the ability to look at your life from another perspective and to see that the life you’re living is maybe just one of many possible lives and you can make decisions, big meaningful ones… (Westover, 2019)


CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. Experience and Education. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929. Retrieved from Internet Archive website:

Education, A. C. (2019, March 27). ACE2019: Tara Westover and Nick Anderson on the Transformative Power of Education. Retrieved from

Hattie, J. (2013). Visible Learning. Retrieved from

Westover, Tara. Educated: A Memoir. New York: Random House, 2018.



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