Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Socrates
This is a bit of a ramble since the ideas are still rolling around in my head.
Recently, Sweetie and I decided we needed new dining room chairs. These chairs came in pieces in a box. When we got them home, Sweetie jumped right in. He got all the pieces out of the box, scattered them around the living room, started turning them every which way and began to fit things together that looked as if they belonged. I was horrified. I’m a person who reads directions. Who checks to make sure all the parts are in order and carefully laid out. Then begins at Step One and systematically works my way through to the end. Et voila!
This is a scenario that has played out with most of our furniture. Personally I think my way is the only way that makes sense. How can you possibly get it right if you don’t read and follow the directions? With Sweetie’s method there is always at least one part left over! The chaos! Granted, chairs aren’t all that complicated – a seat, a back, four legs. But still.
What Sweetie and I unwittingly demonstrated was two of the four commonly accepted styles of learning based on a ground-breaking and widely-accepted theory developed by a man named David Kolb in the mid-eighties. His model is based on our approach to a task and our emotional response to that task. And our preferences can be adapted to how we learn.
The four styles are these:
- learning from specific experience & relating to others (concrete experience)
- watching to see how it’s done (reflective observation)
- thinking about the big picture (abstract conceptualisation)
- jumping in and doing (active experimentation)
Ideally (but not always), we go through each of these styles in a learning cycle. In other words, immediate or concrete experiences lead to observation and reflection which are processed and distilled into abstract concepts which lead to ideas that can be tested, which in turn can create new experiences.
If you prefer a visual, it looks like this:
(If you’d like to find out what type of learning works best for you, you can take this test by clicking here: http://chat.carleton.ca/~tblouin/Kolb’s%20Leaning%20Styles%20Model/kolbs%20test.htm )
And if you really want to know more, this video is a good summary of Kolb’s model despite not reflecting the styles he talks about. Or you can skip it.
I say all this because how we learn and how we think was top of mind a few days ago. I was working with a small group of labour educators on designing a course about how to design courses. We were reviewing the work to make sure that it reflected the different styles and patterns.
When we design, we start by determining what we want people to take away from the session. What do we want them to know? What new knowledge or ideas do we want them to consider? What do we want them to feel? What attitudes do we hope to shift? What will be surprising? What do we hope they will discover? And what do we want them to be able to do? What new skills and tools do we want them to have? Know, feel, do. All in keeping with learning styles.
So there we were engaged in this intriguing discussion about learning styles and patterns of thinking and wanting to be sure that no matter what style a participant prefers, the learning would happen for everyone taking part. These conversations always stimulate my brain. For me there is as much personal learning as there is work. I come away with all sorts of new ideas for other projects. In the middle of this fascinating discussion, I had to step out for an hour to attend a webinar. My learning came to a screeching halt.
This webinar was run by a company that claims to be the largest provider in the world of IT and business training. I was expecting anther stimulating hour. The first thing I noticed when I logged in was that there were a hundred or so ‘attendees’. The second was that the microphone was muted. No talking allowed. Except for the presenter. For the next 60 minutes, we were expected to listen by phone and watch a poorly-done powerpoint presentation on the computer monitor. Completely passive. After about 15 minutes, I watched people start checking out. You could tell because there was a little counter in the corner of the screen and a little “ding!” each time someone logged out. Keeping focussed was a challenge. I found myself watching the counter. Staring out the window. Looking around the office I was using. Wondering about the photos on the desk.
The real irony was that at least three times during the presentation, the presenter commented on the importance of being able to engage directly with people, of one on one contact, of avoiding any sort of ‘one size fits all’.
What did I learn? Don’t remember. Couldn’t wait to escape and get back to something meaningful. Unfortunately my brain was so numbed by the previous hour that it was another half hour before I could begin to re-engage in the design work.
What I do know is that this was one of the worst examples of online learning l’ve seen. To be fair, I have attended better ones – where the presenter periodically polls attendees for their opinions or allows them to submit written questions to be answered at the presenter’s convenience. Maybe. I also know that more and more organizations are looking to shift their learning to the internet in an effort to save money. I have no idea what the company in question paid for this particular webinar but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t cheap. As Sir Ken Robinson says, current education is based on a fast food model of standardization. With all the technological tools now at our disposal, is this the best we can do? If this is the future of learning, we are in serious trouble. (Robinson advocates a learning revolution that would shift from standardization to a system that cultivates creativity and asknowledges multiple types of intelligence.)
I am grateful that there is a group of educators who will resist with every fibre of their being. Who believe that regardless of style, learning is organic rather than linear. Who are passionately committed to real, experiential, participatory learning. Who believe in know, feel, do.
I know I feel this way. I know this is what I need to do. It excites my passion, my spirit and my energy. And isn’t that really the whole purpose of learning?