Learning – two way street

A few weeks ago, I linked to Kathy Sierra’s excellent crash course in learning theory. This drew an interesting comment from Brian Alger, who has now extended his response to Kathy’s post here: Theory: Learning Theory on a Crash Course. Brian raises some useful caveats and elaborations – for example about the limits of a cognitive model of learning and the pitfalls of seeing learning as a deliverable.

The part of this that most interests me is that it’s useful to decide whether you want to treat learning as a one-way street, where the teacher delivers content to the learner. For some things in my life, that’s pretty much what I need. I don’t want to co-create ways to reformat tables of contents in Word, I want Microsoft to show me how.

Or do you want it to be a two-way street, where it’s possible for both parties to be learning? And there are plenty of areas where this is a more useful model. It’s also the area that most excites me, and it’s why I tend to position myself as a facilitator rather than a trainer. For much of the work I do, I don’t have an easy answer; the job is to join the client in reflecting on what they’re doing and together coming up with something new that works.

I suppose it’s no surprise that a lot of talk on the web uses the analogy of “installing new software in the mind” for training people. I’ve come to be rather suspicious of this way of seeing things, as it perpetuates the notion of the learning experience as something done by one person to another. I tend to see my role as more like improving the bandwidth between people. OK, itself a dodgy metaphor but my starting assumption is that human beings are already rather brilliant creatures, and the more they are able to share with each other the more exciting and useful are the ideas they can generate together.

In my original post I enthused about applying a learning model to branding. And here again, take your choice of whether you want to see branding as something essentially done to people or done with them. James posted a great story yesterday (Why Hells Angels Know Best) about what happened when Harley Davidson stopped trying to dictate what its brand was and let itself be changed by its hard core customers.

(I also appreciated Brian’s argument for not treating the brain as a completely distinct entity. Instead, he favours the notion of bodymind. One of the reasons I often use Improv activities when working with teams is that they can help us get away from a purely intellectual way of learning or sharing in favour of something involving the whole body.)

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