It seems likely that we also imitate sounds and initially acquire language by making the same sounds as the people around us. Most parents have experiences of getting quoted verbatim by a child that cannot yet tie his or her own shoes. The toddler will suddenly utter "get a life" without knowing what it means -- if that's a parent's over-used expression. I know from my own travels abroad that my "Americanese" gets a slight British accent when I've been surrounded by the Queen's English. Likewise my French accent improved dramatically when I was living around Paris for a couple weeks. I've also noticed my speech gets a bit of a southern drawl when I've worked for extended time periods in Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia.
As I reflected on our mirror neurons this morning (pun intended!), I wondered if we also learn other's unspoken premises by imitation. What if we cannot help but give others "a taste of their own medicine", "a show of what they're showing us" or "a return of their favor"? Perhaps our mirror neurons fire up when our minds have "nothing better to do". That suggests several ways that pro-learning ecologies respond effectively to our mirror neurons and support imitation learning-- while anti-learning ecologies do the opposite:
- When learners need to reason something through more effectively, an exemplar is provided to imitate who can externalize his/her thinking. The learners mirror what they see in the exemplar's conduct and self awareness. When learning is opposed, a bad example is put in front of the learners or a hypocrite is put in charge of getting learners to "do as I say -- don't do as I do".
- When learners need to interact, socialize and experience other viewpoints, opportunities are provided for discussions and collaborative problem solving. The learners mirror each others ability to be conversant, interactive and understanding of each other. When learning is opposed, the anti-social instructor does all the talking and penalizes the imitators who anti-socially talk at the same time.
- When learners need to play devil's advocate to develop a balanced perspective, they are presented with extreme positional stances that provoke opposing arguments. The learners mirror each other's use of contrarian viewpoints and non-conformist positions. When learning is opposed, the learners seem like monsters who constantly confront, antagonize and dismiss any reductionistic proponent of one right answer, bigoted stances and one-sided solutions.
- When learners need need to cultivate their own leadership traits, they are provided with playful situations where their initiatives get feedback, their reasoning gets reflected upon and their "acting out their frustrations" gets mirrored back to them. When learning is opposed, they get told how to be a leader, given lists of respected traits and tested on the right way to take charge of a situation.