“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
This month is going to be, if you were cooking, goulash. I have a central theme, but I will throw in a lot of different things around the concept of how we all learn, but learn differently.
Here’s what is tough for many to accept: there is a better way to learn today than how you were taught. Hope you were sitting down. I had more than 50 student teachers and to the individual, they all started by delivering material exactly the way they were taught. After they learned that it wasn’t a younger them sitting in the chairs, things changed.
The really good ones realized that it wasn’t the student—it was the teacher. The most difficult part of accepting this is that it’s an indictment of how we’ve been taught and therefore of us. It’s personal. When we critically analyze and then change our approach, we’re saying that what we received isn’t good enough. That’s tough, but wait, there’s more.
Statutes and local policies are being written by victims of this same lame system? How can that possibly be? I’ll tell you how. World-wide research on how people learn is readily available now, and thanks to that same technology that has changed our methods of learning, the shortcomings are right in our face with the touch of a couple buttons.
When was the last time you were in a library? Do you suppose traffic in a library is increasing or decreasing? How old is your latest set of Encyclopedia Britannica? And no, you can’t count the cool new iPod app you just bought. Nice try, though.
We aren’t really saying that it wasn’t good enough because it worked well for many. The first step to being relevant to youth today is to recognize and respect the amazing arsenal of technology that we simply didn’t have. One more thing—when I reference youth, I am speaking of a young learner. This has absolutely nothing to do with chronological age, but rather with familiarity with a subject matter. Bill Sweet sent me the following:
“Thanks for your great column in the September, 2013 issue of Model Aviation. I couldn’t agree more. I am living proof of your thesis learn by doing.
“When I was a Cub Scout, a guest at our meeting taught us how to make and fly balsa wood gliders. I was hooked. From that day on, I built and flew many models. In college, I earned a degree in aeronautical engineering (major in aerodynamics). I got into radio control about 1960. Remember Kraft radios? I am a young 83 and still take great joy in flying radio-control planes, quads, and helicopters. Because of this hobby, I continue to learn about new technology while having fun. I am blessed.
“I wish all young people could see your column and learn from it.”
Thanks, Bill, for the kind words.
Although Bill suggests that learning by doing worked for him and that all young people could learn this way, they won’t. Yes, many will benefit from the hands-on learning experience, but trying to create a magic template of learning would fail as it did then. Albert Einstein once offered this perspective: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So, let’s do things differently. Einstein vividly points out the folly of continuing to do the same thing and isn’t that what we’ve been doing for decades? Our expectations continue to grow, but our approach stays the same? Aren’t we told that American students can’t compete with international students?
Here’s the key … ready? Let go. Accept the fact that learners are by far the best analysts we have for them. Some will require a traditional classroom with interaction; some only need time online. Many will indeed benefit from a hands-on approach. So, get out of the way. A young learner—whether a 10-year-old or an 83-year-old—knows best.
Finally, we’ve spent this time with learning and we have to somehow measure it, document it, and provide results to the funders. How do we do that? Do our learners—products of different approaches and resources—express their knowledge in the same way?
What can we say about the self-esteem our learners leave with? Is it safe to say that the brightest among us have recognized this for a long time? Maybe it’s time to encourage our brightest to become those statute writers and policy makers. Everyone loves to give lip service to the value of education and then hesitate to fund it—not with money, but with brains!
Fly and have fun!