Sunday, 23 June 2013

The experience of learning from experience

As I've posted previously in a piece called Performance Development - moving away from the garage refit model, conversations about learning and development planning often focus on courses as primary sources of learning. 

It's all about experience - mine and others'

But with a little stimulation and encouragement, I have a sense in which paying attention to the experience of learning - what it is to learn, the sources of learning and the extent to which we have the ability to be in control - can and will shift the status quo.  My point is that when we experience and take seriously the learning that we get from experience, it will encourage us as learners to make new connections, to find new sources and pay rather less attention to traditional models like formal courses.

Two pieces that I've read recently pick up on what there is to be learned from experience.

Firstly, Euan Semple's succinct reflections in Life Lessons of the Keyboard provide a nicely articulated description of learning from his experiences of typing. As Semple reflects:

Staying calm keeps me in the moment. It helps me make less mistakes.
Maybe the same could be true of the rest of my life…

David Sudnow's book, Ways of the Hand (1978), does something similar in which he tells the story of how he learned to improvise jazz on the piano by, quite literally, noticing how his hands moved over the keyboard.  He took seriously his experience, noticed what was happening and wrote it down.

Secondly, Harvard Business Review's April 2013 edition, page 127 to 131 Reprint R1304L, Make yourself an expert describes the tools for learning from experience.  The pitch of the article is about how to go about learning from people with deep expertise, 'deep smarts', as they call them: people with business-critical expertise built up through years of experience. And the four steps that are described in the learning model to pull on this expertise are: Observation, Practice, Partner and Problem Solve, Take Responsibility.  What is being advocated is a simple action plan, informed by experience, and managed by the individual.

Clive Shepherd's work on top down-bottom up development planning, which he talks about in The New Learning Architect, describes a similar approach.  Learning is a process that revolves around a continuous cycle of reflecting,observing, exploring and experimenting, supported by peers, experts and teachers. 


Given that we know that we learn most of what we know or can do from experience, it seems to me that we need to understand better the relationship between working and learning, with whom and how. Lurking in this is an issue to do with accountability for learning and how we might go about reframing the relationship between teacher and learning.   

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