Lesson of the Day: Learning to Learn (Again)

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been privileged to be a participant in, and an adviser to, the Slow School of Business, founded by Carolyn Tate and supported by a team of expert facilitators. It has been an invaluable experience, as it has forced me to think about how I learn – not just my learning style, but what engages me to want to know more.

While Carolyn has articulated her own personal and professional reasons for starting Slow School, the initiative is attracting people who have a natural bias towards a certain type of learning environment. Overall, these people have a preference for education that is:

  • Peer-to-peer
  • Interactive
  • Collaborative
  • In person
  • Practical

That’s not to say participants aren’t also engaged by on-line courses, or pedagogic instruction, or even self-directed learning, but that’s not the full story – there has to be a personal connection as well.

A particular revelation for me was prompted by a question that Carolyn posed at a facilitators’ networking meeting a few weeks ago: she challenged each of us to identify one thing we had learned about learning over the past year. I had recently come across the work of William Cronon, historian, educator and environmentalist. In particular, a paper he wrote in 1998, entitled “Only Connect…” The Goals of a Liberal Education.

Professor Cronon’s article is such an eloquent description of the mindset, attitude and world view that the best students (and therefore, the best learners) should bring to any course of study or learning experience. Education is not simply about rote learning, or fact cramming, or even regurgitation of prescribed texts – although this is what most tests and exams are designed to assess and evaluate.

A better approach is to explore what we have learned through a process of enquiry that demonstrates comprehension, critical analysis, practical application and conceptual re-contextualistion – such as working out a given problem using basic first principles, or testing a stated theory via the use of analogous scenarios.

The benefits of this inquisitive approach to learning cannot be overstated, but here are two examples:

  1. The students of today need to be equipped for future careers that haven’t even been thought of yet – so we need to train them to be adaptive and resilient, not to be “square pegs in square holes”
  2. The true test of a “learning organisation” includes the willingness to embrace uncertainty, the temerity to ask the difficult questions, and the audacity to challenge the status quo – otherwise, businesses are doomed to stagnation and ossification.

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