When Did You REALLY Learn?

10 Mar

I have found a little group exercise that I think has the potential to revolutionize life. Maybe that’s hyperbole. Read on to see what you think.

I’ve used it with students and with Library & IT professionals (the latter with my good friend Colleen Wheeler); it seems to work with almost anyone, and almost everyone gets excited by it. Here it is, in three required and one optional steps.

Step 1. Ask “When did you REALLY learn?”

You get a group of people together and you ask them to reflect on their lives and pick out a time they feel like they really learned. Then you use whatever facilitation method you want to collect and discuss their experiences (Think, Pair, Share works really well). Ends up you don’t need to pull teeth. People LOVE to talk about times they’ve really learned.

From my anecdotal experience, there seem to be probably a half-dozen environments that people seize upon, and they’re all similar. Professionals imagine environments like kindergarten, preschool, what I call “Big Chill” moments (great conversations over wine with a few friends). My group of students from last week described mostly hands-on, experiential learning in improvisational small groups in “real world” environments.

Step 2: Find the General Rules.

Get a few examples on the board (or wherever) and then ask the group to help you find some generalities that run through all the examples. What kinds of rules pop out? Well, try it yourself! They’re things like: you need a small group; you need trust; you need to feel safe; you need to be able to try and fail a lot; a coach or mentor comes in handy (but probably not a rote-learning compliance officer); it helps to be in a real, hands-on environments (sadly, people don’t seem to think of traditional classrooms when you ask them where they’ve learned!); your activities need to matter; there needs to be no “right” outcome, etc.

Step 3: Ask “Do You See These Rules In Place Anywhere, Ever?”

This part is the kicker.

Ask your group to tell you how often they stumble into these kinds of experiences in their life. Whether what they do all day ever feels anything like these experiences. Whether their workplace or their school embodies any of the general rules that they themselves just generated.

Then there comes a nice little a-ha moment where your group realizes (viscerally) a disconnect between what they experience deeply as valuable learning (generative, fun, life-changing, challenging, meaningful) and the kinds of activities and environments that we encounter in our various social organizations (political, bureaucratic, boring, etc.).

Work definitely doesn’t seem to feel like learning. Of course, it’s work, you might say. But education doesn’t seem to feel like learning, either!

Step 4: Say “Let’s make it better!”

If you feel like it, you can then unleash your group onto the world and challenge them to see if they can increase the frequency of learning moments like those they remember. For themselves, for those around them, for those that come after them.

Of course, this is the hard part. But you have to start with a feeling! And I think this exercise helps engender that. Try it out and let me know how it goes.


2 Responses to “When Did You REALLY Learn?”

  1. Ross PV March 21, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    I think this has a good a chance as any other discussion activity to revolutionize the world. The trick is to keep having the conversation and to pick up the threads that really matter and keep drawing them from the past into the present. Easier said than done…

    • wedaman April 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

      Amen to that! Hi, Ross.

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