Learning to learn

Changed approach.

I changed my strategy for advocating weblogs in my local educational setting: Each member of the group is supposed to run his own weblog and the group weblogs aggregate and form intersections.

The immediate response from one student: »I don't see a need for that.«. Why is it that some people see the immediate appeal of it while others think it is pure overhead? There seems to be conflicting mental models about the whole weblogging hype. [Oliver Wrede]

I don't think this only about “conflicting models about the whole weblogging hype.” This issue runs much deeper.

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that many people are disabled by their fundamental epistomological believes. It's the way they think about learning, knowledge, skill, growth, teaching, knowing, change, evaluation, truth, … which is preventing them to take an active role of a designer, constructor, producer, tinkerer, scientist (in the more general sense it was used by the psychologist George Kelly). Let me throw in a citation from the writing of the British psychologists Thomas & Harri-Augstein:

In constructing and validating their views, people develop their own 'personal myths'. We introduce this term to designate the 'personal knowing' that results from enduring long-term conversational encounters. The term 'myth' is meant to carry all its positive, negative, allegorical and transcendental implications. There is a vast range of viable personal myths that can be developed around any topic.

If people believe that “real learning” is only taking place when an educational authority is telling them about established truths you could put all kinds of polished technological and conceptual tools in front of them and they would still come up with good excuses why things are not working for them. You will hear stuff like: “This takes too long. I don't have the time to carry this out on a regular basis,” “the interface is too difficult,” “I don't feel comfortable sharing my ongoing work with others,” “just tell me what I need to know”… and so forth. While some people (mostly enablers, facilitators, …) then continue to search for the holy grail of tools we would probably require interventions and support techniques that are closer to counselling and therapy than much, much better interfaces and tool performance.

Again, Harri-Augstein & Thomas remind us

We cannot change our personal myths overnight, nor should we; but we accepting the relativity of personal meaning, we can purposefully and self-critically bring these myths into greater awareness.

I believe that most (experimental) educational research fails to acknowledge this important issue into account. Talking about a similar topic Brian Lamb summed this up in the following words:

But the gentle introduction has its own practical pitfall: it doesn’t deliver particularly impressive results in the short term, potentially undermining the prospects of securing sustained project funding.

Needless to say that the same dilemma can be found in countless corporate environments, too. [Sebastian Fiedler]

[Seblogging News]

This is a spot on analysis. And yes, it certainly occurs in corporate environments as well. I don't know what it is that leaves so many passive when it comes to the question of taking control of learning. I'd like to hope that that is not the intent of most real teachers, although there are certainly plenty who can be more concerned about demonstrating their expertise rather than enabling others to learn for themselves.

This is one of the reasons that I've always been more drawn to B students than A students. In most environments, A students get wrapped up in trying to figure out what the professor wants to hear. The right kind of B student is willing to trust their own interpretations.

The structural problem is educational settings modeled on industrial lines, which measure a peculiar kind of productivity. This creates and perpetuates an environment of experts with secret insights to be learned. Better to create an environment where all are experts and learners at the same time. As a learner, I want to have a way to tap into experts, who might be anyone who knows more than I do right now and is willing to provide some pointers. As an expert, I want to have other learners around who help me explicate my expertise by asking questions I've forgotten and seeing problems I no longer see.

Three people come to mind who've helped me in my journey as a learner. One was the late Donald Schon and his work on reflective practice (The Reflective Practitioner, Educating the Reflective Practitioner), Tim Gallwey and his work on the Inner Game (The Inner Game of Work), and Ellen Langer's work on mindfulness (Mindfulness, The Power of Mindful Learning).