Helping the learners

One of the issues in the PLE conversation is "helping the learners: learn and become better learners". There's an approach I'm gaining clarity about to provide this help: simply stop interfering.

There's a Native American tradition I learned of this year that starts from the premise that: "teaching interferes with learning". When learners seek to be taught, they are redirected with a new question, subtle hints or a puzzling story. It's assumed that teaching them directly would undermine their natural ability to discover answers on their own. If learners grow to rely on teachers, they will be unable to learn from their actions, consequences and social experiences. Teaching is cheating someone of their right to "figure it out on their own". Getting taught is not as fun, fulfilling and empowering as getting directed back into a continuing exploration.

I believe we are coming around to this tradition throughout the world. Formal education is failing to meet the needs of our changing technologies and cultures. The costs are soaring, the value is declining and the disenchantment is growing.

Gaming, handhelds and online activities are all learned by self-discovery, experiments and feedback (with a little help from our friends). We are gaining confidence from how much we've learned to do that's new without getting taught how to do it. We found out how, figured out how, or realized how to do it -- one way or another.

There is an underlying psychological reason to stop interfering with learning. Our unconscious mind demonstrates amazing learning abilities that our conscious mind cannot replicate. We assimilate our native language, social graces and motor skills by imitation and experimentation. If we are given a complex puzzle about making the right tradeoffs, our conscious mind is baffled and our unconscious mind gets it right. Once we start succeeding, the conscious mind assumes "it was dumb luck".

This also makes sense in terms of the abundance and scarcity framework that Michele Martin and Pete Reilly have both raised in the past week. If we assume a learner lacks the ability to learn, we are all too eager to make them dependent on us, disable their curiosity, and dismiss their own power. If we assume (as Native Americans do) that the learner has an abundance of resources for discovering, exploring and learning, we carefully avoid interfering by our teaching, delivering content or push models of education. Switching from a scarcity to an abundance framework will really help the learners.

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  1. Dr. Clare Brant noted this difference in how teaching happens in native versus industrial cultures. He called it Shaping vs Modeling

  2. Thanks for the link Harold. I was delighted to find you connected Shaping vs Modeling to McLuhan and had another whole post on reversals. Both posts put me deep into my territory of fortunate learning! What a find you are!