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Connected (Part 3)

December 31, 2009

Tell me and I’ll forget
Show me and I may remember
Involve me and I’ll understand

This is a Chinese proverb I stumbled upon recently. I not only think it’s beautiful (as most proverbs are), but I also think it’s a perfect teaching mantra. And remaining in the spirit of participatory teaching mantras, I’d like to pair it off with a very well known, sharply elevating and frequently cited quote by Aristotle:

Teaching is the highest form of understanding

The message here is clear and simple. To educate well, you must engage learners in your subject. To best obtain knowledge on a subject, you must teach it.

Connected series

Connected (Part 3) is the conclusion of a three part series, concentrating on connecting and sharing as an effective learning method in non-formal education.

In Connected (Part 1), I explored a possible deployment strategy when using social media tools with older learners. Connected (Part 2) argues the need of a well considered interactive setup and a change in social-political (company) attitude. Now in this last episode, I’m focussing on a topic mentioned briefly in the first one: learning by coaching.

Learning by teaching

Russell Ackoff, a Systems Thinker and an Educational Revisionist, passed away last October. Leaving behind countless controversial ideas on the educational system.

He states in an interview with BBC’s Peter Day, his beliefs about learning by teaching. Praising the one-room schoolhouse teaching method discussed in Part 1, where students actively partake in learning.

In the one-room learning setting, the students learn by coaching each other. The teacher is a guiding resource learners fall back on. This is contrary to present day learning, where the teacher stands aloof and spills out knowledge at students instead of sharing it.

For many learners, this is not a very stimulating learning environment. Ackoff explains, “We’re aware that information is more important than data. Knowledge is more important than information and understanding more important than knowledge. Yet we devote more time on information, less on knowledge and none on understanding. We don’t teach students how to learn.”

Discrepancy education and practice

Learning how to learn, means understanding how the world around you interrelates and interacts. In a one-way learning setting, this is often ignored and we provide learners with a framework that gives them authority on subjects they may not (fully) understand.

As a consequence learners know in theory how things work. Only to later on in real life be confronted with problems they’ve got no clue whatsoever how to solve. And that’s when the actual learning begins. In practice.

The separation of intellectual ideas and manual skills is responsible for this notorious discrepancy of education and practice. Ackoff, being the modern day practical doer, advocated a new form of apprenticeship for all disciplines in the Higher Education.

Natural learning method

As an educator I taught in what Ackoff felt the soon-to-be-obsolete form of education. And I did learn through trial and error how to be a better tutor. Not with my nose in the theories, but in real time practice.

I also learnt the benefits of using a coach-to-coach learning method. Applying it when teaching classes to adult learners; and also applying it guiding children and teens as a voluntary Educational Worker in community projects.

Coaching is a natural learning method. Children do it playfully, without giving it a second thought (see Learners teach thyself). Apprenticeship as a coach-to-coach form stimulates continuous learning. It’s learning by doing, learning by engaging and learning by teaching. But it’s also, acknowledging and respecting learners. Listening to them and exploring and building on their personal abilities and knowledge.

Taking it to non-formal learning

Ackoff points out the failings of the traditional formal education system. There’s a thing or two we can learn from his ideas. And keep them in the back of our minds when designing a non-formal learning setting.

One of my own tentative conclusions of the QUALC Conference is that many educators in the non-formal setting yearn for the recognition and accreditation their colleagues in the formal setting receive. They shouldn’t.

The non-formal learning setting has its own powerful strengths. And certainly now with the possibilities offered by social media and open source learning. I know (financial) resources are often limited. Yet we mustn’t forget that limitations have a way of breeding creativity. We can exploit this and create learner centred environments, where learners are in control of their own passions and their own acquisition of knowledge.

Teach and learn: Connect and share

As I’m in the quoting mode (aka mood), I’d like to close off with Mark Twain (1906):

It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others — and less trouble

So go on now, get involved. Do connect with me and others. Share any experiences or thoughts you might have with or on the subject. Let me learn from you and you from me. Teach me and I’ll teach you.

Related posts you might enjoy reading:

Connected (Part 1)
Connected (Part 2)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Niall permalink
    January 3, 2010 23:35

    I have looked at social network sites and learning concept and I wondered if it is the style layout and the structure that maintains the users interest as opposed to the content. This lead me to look at commercial retail sites, why are some successful and some not; web designers in this field seem to understand how maintain interest in the more successful sites. Maybe we need to borrow some of their tools!



    • January 4, 2010 00:18

      Dear Niall,
      I’m all for ‘borrowing’ from other disciplines, as I believe we can learn a lot by just studying others; the way you did. In my opinion, usability plays a big part in subtly guiding learners through the content. And a good team must also have an Interaction Designer who knows how to make the design work for the content and the learning objectives.

      Here’s a link on usability I found on Twitter the other day: Tips On Website Usability by Erhard Smit. Might be of some use to you.

      Niall, Thanks for sharing!
      Greetings, Evita.


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