Saturday, October 24, 2009

Learning = Fishing

At Heartland, we are putting into effect learning teams, which are similar in principle to professional learning communities (PLCs). The teams afford our consultants the opportunity to learn from other consultants in areas that they prioritize, making them better at their profession.

As any administrator that has tried to institute PLCs can attest (or, anything new, for that matter), change isn't embraced by everyone, even when it directly benefits their autonomy. For many, it is an opportunity, but for others, it is a mandate that they don't have time for...

Wait a second. Learning is a mandate. And some educators have a problem with that?

Well, that's not quite fair. In visiting with some of those who had some concerns, it isn't that they have a problem with learning, per se. They just feel they learn quite well with their current routine.

Unfortunately, that's not what the research in adult learning says. And the difference is perhaps best illustrated with a metaphor. Learning is like fishing.

1. You can't learn much if you don't get off the shore. Learning is an active process, requiring effort and initiative. If you wait for the fish to come to you, you might get lucky and have something wash up next to your feet. But it isn't the effective way to do it; get in a boat and go navigate the big lake. If I told you to go learn as much as you could in one day, you wouldn't do what you normally do in a day. You would change your routine.

2. Learning isn't just quantity, but also diversity. Some beginning fishers like to go to the same hole and pull out perch after perch just to say they caught 50 in one day. There is nothing wrong with catching a large haul every once in a while, but you can't do that all the time. As fishers become more sophisticated, they realize that a diversity is important--bass, crappie, and then walleye, and even muskie.

3. Learning is organic, not systematic. I went through all the checklists of "how to fish" with my kids, be it how to bait, how to cast, how to hold the line, etc. It didn't necessarily lead to catching fish, and that is frustrating to seven-year-olds. Many learners go through the same frustrations. I did the steps someone told me to learn algebra, or to grow tomatoes! What they don't realize is learning must be done multiple times in a variety of ways to be internalized, and there is no systematic schedule to it.

4. Diversity of learning requires different locations. Move that boat around. Put the line deeper. Or in other words, check out different sources of information. Use different tools to acquire information. Including ones you haven't tried before.

5. Diversity of learning requires different times. Saying to educators, "the time you will learn is during this once-a-month, two-hour professional development session" is like saying to the fish, "the time I'm catching you will be at 2:00 in the afternoon". That isn't necessarily when you are ready to fish, or when fish are ready to be caught. Adults must have access to learning at all times in an ongoing basis to truly be most effective.

6. Diversity of learning requires casting your widest net. Some during our sessions were slightly upset that they couldn't choose to work with those that they were most comfortable working with for their learning teams. But, the reality is people don't learn as much from those who they are closest to, much like you don't always want the fish that are right next to the boat. People learn more from those farther away.

As an analogy, fishing illustrates what George Siemens describes as connectivist learning, how adults learn best in today's age. We don't learn by prescribed times, locations, sources, people, and methods. We learn instead by a diversity of practices and by creating a wider network with more nodes. Wider networks mean learning can come at any time and not always when one is expecting it.

But to create wider networks, we need to seek out new sources, tools and people. And, that includes people we don't know. Developing our own personal learning networks to fully utilize the tools of today. And embracing online communities to interact any time, pace, and place.

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