Thursday, April 19, 2012

Facilitating Learning


Although I often call myself an educator, it’s a lie. Okay, I’m being overly dramatic. It’s just not the most accurate way to describe what I do. I don’t educate people; I facilitate their learning. If you train horses or raise kids, you probably get the distinction immediately. The best we can do for either is set up a situation wherein learning can occur.

When I talk about learning, I’m talking about more than just memorizing facts. That’s a superficial level of learning, much like gathering the ingredients needed for baking a cake. Doing something with those ingredients is where it gets interesting. Whether the process results in a yummy cake or insights produced through reflection and activity, we end up with something much more desirable when processing is involved.

Recently I gave several talks before packed crowds at Equine Affaire in Ohio. The lecture is a classic way of offering up the ingredients for a learning experience. If my lecture is relevant and thought-provoking for my audience, chances are pretty good that ideas will start rolling around in some noggins and a bit of processing will occur. For those folks who talked to me one-on-one about their horses, the likelihood of learning increased dramatically, and not because of anything I did. It was what they did. They became active learners, formulating questions, taking in my responses, breaking apart ideas and putting them back together in ways that made sense to them. In the language of constructivist learning theory, they were creating meaning, a much higher form of learning than simply memorizing facts.

Now just because creating meaning is a high-level form of learning doesn’t mean that all learning must be active. For example, if I ask you for directions to the airport, I want unadorned facts to flow from your brain into mine. I learn the directions by simply accepting what you have told me. When I drive that route, your directions may take on new meaning as I view the scenery, but that embellishment wasn’t critical to what I wanted to learn.

Final thought for today: Natural learning occurs every day as we interact with the world around us. It’s effortless and highly effective.  The challenge facing education today, in my humble opinion, is understanding exactly how natural learning occurs and how it might be used to produce the outcomes we want. If we can facilitate that kind of learning, everyone wins.

You can read more at my learning blog:  http://ricklamblearning.blogspot.com/

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