What do we mean by learning? I should be more specific. I’ll add a qualifier to the question. What should we mean by learning? I’m not referring to just any learning, particularly not the kind which is really little more than data processing, which is what rote study measured by recall is. I mean learning which is deep and lasting. Nutritious, if you will.
In thinking about this, I came up with a long list of qualities. Reflecting on them, primarily in an effort to synthesize, I kept coming back to the idea of process. I’ve reduced it to three stages:
· Real learning begins with a question. Pointed or open-ended, incisive or roundabout, spontaneous or reflective, the guiding question signals the hunger. This is particularly true when it’s of a personal nature, the relevance packed in the person’s wonder.
· Real learning is open to possibilities. The question leads to a variety of answers. They may be random and eclectic. They may affirm or challenge norms and preconceptions. They may prompt new connections.
· Real learning enchants. As if cast under a spell, someone becomes lost in deep exploration, enthralled while creating meaning. The magic of wonder sparks even more questions.
I hesitated in trying to capture real learning in stages because it can lead to a dangerous misconception: that is linear. While it is to a degree, notice that the final sentence in the third bullet item loops right back to the first. In a way it’s a virtuous cycle. But I also think the structure is more complex than that. Perhaps an atom would be a better metaphor. Think about all the interdependent pieces whizzing around…and all the energy contained within, waiting to be harnessed.
That’s what we should mean by real learning. I think deep down we do. Plenty of people articulate such thoughts.So in some ways, my opening question, particularly with the qualifier, may not be that tough. So here’s a tougher, or at least less pleasant one. Do our actions match our words?