This and that…

June 23, 2015

Live each day as if it is your last. Learn as if you will live forever. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Filed under: education,learning,Post-secondary,Support Services,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 7:21 pm
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I have mentioned in other posts how enamored I am with TED Talks…so much rich content and so easy to access. In this segment, Ben Dunlap, a professor at Wofford College in South Carolina, talks about the mentors who have inspired his passion for learning and why they have been so compelling.

Ben Dunlap and Lifelong Learning

We talk a lot in education about “creating lifelong learners”. In the years (lots) that I have been an educator, a bushel basket of well-meaning, “research-based” approaches  have been tried. Sometimes they work, more often they don’t. I think this is the least in part due to the fact that learning cannot be imposed from the outside. It is visceral, an internal experience, a struggle, fraught with failure along the road to competence. Students (and we are all students in this context) need to experience many failures as they bludgeon their way to achieving authentic success. Working through that process vigorously, on relevant tasks, and eventually – not immediately, eventually – reaching a goal, has to happen for learning to be. A good score on a test, or the threat of a bad one, often does not provide that sense of authentic success and satisfaction.

I am lucky. I am an adult, and I generally get to choose my learning experiences. If something is a really bad fit, I don’t necessarily have to stay with it. My most satisfying experiences as a learner have always been the most frustrating. My least satisfying experiences have occurred when I have not had to struggle… Full disclosure -there are a few things that annoy me more than taking a class or attending a workshop that I could have taught, just because someone else thought it would be a good idea. Big waste of my time. I wonder how often our students feel that way. Probably more  than we would care to acknowledge.

Another component my satisfying learning experiences have in common is the deadline. Deadlines allow/require me to focus my efforts. Lack of a deadline gives me permission to put things off- usually in favor of something WITH a deadline. Learning needs to feel urgent. It does not matter whether my deadline is externally or internally imposed, it is the reality of it not being negotiable that provides the urgency. Of course, if the goal is not worthwhile, all the deadlines in the world are not going to create any urgency for the learning…

I am not in any way suggesting that students should be responsible for choosing all of their learning experiences or that all of those experiences should be “fun” or “engaging”. Most do not know enough to understand what they will need next week, much less next year. I am suggesting that perhaps we must remember that as a species, we are hungry learners. Watch babies and toddlers struggle to interact with their environment, or that teenager endlessly practicing her hook shot so that she can make the team, or the novice reader battling their way through the first book that they are reading to younger sibling… All of those experiences are worth the work. That’s the key I think, find a way to make the guided classroom learning worth the work. Then, we will begin to grow those lifelong learners.



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