What I have learned about learning from my learning

One thing I haven’t really talked about on this blog is learning from my own perspective (or perhaps it is all about my learning: discuss). So I thought I would dedicate some wordage to that.

Number 1: I don’t respond well to targets

Set me a goal, go on, please. I may ignore it, or embrace it enthusiastically, but without a doubt I will forget it. Stand at the front and tell me the learning objectives for a lesson I will generally go: yeah yeah, whatever, get on with the bloody learning. Although to be fair, most of the times people have done this to me, I’ve either not been terribly interested in it, or have read them and realised I could already do most of the things listed. I have had goals set as appraisals, I have tried setting fitness and health targets, and each and every time they have failed. Dismally. I even struggle to use a “to do” list. I remember doing my last formal teacher training course and being reminded every time that my personal objectives for each observed lesson were supposed to be linked to my last observed lesson. I never did remember.

Here’s my question, then: why? Perhaps the targets set have never really been owned by me, and I’ve not had a role in negotiating them. Very possible, and in the case of the learning outcomes at training events, this is almost certainly the case. I think that motivation is definitely part of it, like when I think about the health goals I have tried setting myself, it’s usually been because I consciously know and would like to lose weight, but deep down, it’s not an ingrained, deep desire. So…

Number 2. Motivation is important.

If I really do want something I don’t need goals setting, or encouragement. I don’t need motivational cant either – I had a running app on my iphone once that used to say positive encouraging messages every mile or so. I disliked running anyway, and this definitely didn’t help. I once startled an old lady by shouting abuse at the phone when it did this, so decided the app wasn’t for me. So, trying to jolly me along or inspire me with “you’re doing really well, keep it up” type crap is going to jar with me.

Motivation can come from the session itself, a kind of integral motivation, where the manner and the style of the session is so good that you want to learn anyway. But this is rare, and hard to master. Differentiation here is important: I was bright kid at school, and I pick stuff up pretty quickly, so someone like me needs a push or I will get bored. Tell me what I already know and you’ve lost me. Motivation will plummet.

Like I said, if I want to learn it, I will. So lessons and training need to meet a clear need which I have recognised (no, that’s not goal setting: any performance management expert will tell you there is a difference between “you will be able to do x” and “this is a session on x”). I will dedicate time and energy off my own back, at the expense of my pocket, my health and my family, I will be quite pathetically obsessed by it at times. Like when I did the LSIS Research Development Fellowship, I didn’t use a conscious process of goal setting or marking off achievements, I just got on with it.

Number 3: reflection is overrated.

Given that this blog is all about me reflecting on stuff, that seems odd, but let me explain. The problem I have with reflection is that a lot of the time it’s either forced into a structure (no, you may not just ramble about it in your own style, you must reflect on X in the manner of Klebb’s Maceration Cycle) or it isn’t needed (or perhaps wanted?). The beauty of blogging as reflection is that you are free to do it how and when you like, and I think the reflections are much richer for that. The other thing with reflection is that people tend to reflect then forget about it. So the reflection becomes a paper exercise that doesn’t have an impact on reality.

So OK, reflection isn’t overrated but it is usually badly done. But the “overrated”heading there will hopefully annoy a few people…!

Number 4: the trick to effective technology use is confidence.

If I had a pound for every time I’ve been to training or on courses and the speaker/teacher says “ooh, I hope the technology works” I would be a rich man by now. Hell, I’ve no doubt said it myself before. The thing is, when you do that, you immediately underline the use of the technology as a gimmick. I get technology, I use it a lot, and nothing puts you off it like that. Do share with me that your experimenting – I like that in a teacher/trainer – but don’t fret about the technology. Digital technology can be a fantastic resource, so don’t play the “crusty academic new-fangled computerational machines” card, it’s not cute, just rubbish. Nobody ever said “ooh, I hope the paper works”. So practice before the session, then bloody use it and get on with it. (And I promise not to say it myself ever again)

Number 5: Collaboration is important

…but be careful. People who know more (also known as “smug bastards”) can get complacent and arrogant (that’s me, by the way) when they work with people who have more to learn. It’s OK from time to time, but for collaboration to really work you have to get the mix of abilities and temperaments right. You put a shouty strong learner with three quiet less able learners you may as well just get that shouty strong learner to do it on their own, and let the others relax. It’s quicker, and saves excruciating discomfort for all involved. On the other hand put a bunch of shouty strong learners together and it (can be) marvellous fun, in a “light the blue touch paper and send well back” way. So again, differentiation is important (I should give it its own paragraph).

Number 6: differentiation is important.

See 2 and 5 above. And probably the rest as well.

Number 7: I like learning.

I do. I will digest facts and figures, carry out micro scale action research projects, read stuff, do stuff, all those things. Learning is possibly one of the most fun things you can do either on your own or with other people. Your job, dear teacher, is to make sure I remember this.


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