Art of Design in Learning

We grow forward when the delights of growth and anxieties of safety are greater than the anxieties of growth and the delights of safety.

Maslow

This past semester we spent a lot of time considering various theories of learning. As adults, we don’t learn the same way as children. Yet, most of our institutions reflect pedagogical, or child learning theories. Teacher-authority at the front, the conduit of knowledge. Learner expected to absorb, memorize, and recite. Integration of subject matter in the learner’s context is secondary, and often never occurs. In Adult learning theory, which has only been seriously studied and understood over the past 80 yrs, a number of factors are required for there to be meaningful learning to take place.

Here’s a little graph from a very cool organization called, Global Learning Partners that sums up a few of the essential conditions for serious adult learning.

At Lighthouse, we are beginning to practice more of these conditions as we tackle learning as something we facilitate and design more than we authoritatively prescribe. No longer do I, or our leaders spend as much time instructing from the front, but engineering intentional dialogue and interaction that leads to deeper considering, letting go of old and embracing new.. and ultimately, self-directing towards intengration in their context.

To come alongside the learner is to serve the learner in their quest for growth. Asking open questions seems to be key – the kind that allow for verbal processing and engagement.

Too much of the traditional format of education is unaccountable in that you really never know if any learning took place (memorization doesn’t count). Traditional education is subject driven, and focuses on the often coercive, positional power structure of the ‘teacher’ as authority and students motivated by reward and punishment more than individual growth. That may work for kids in basic training, but very few over 18yrs old learn this way. In fact, studies have shown just how little learning results in changed attitudes and behavior when these power structures are in play. Why? One of the reasons is that adults become increasingly protective of their ideas and convictions as they age.

Traditional power structures limit that observable, deep processing that’s required before we let go of something we’ve valued, and exchange it for something more meaningful to us. It becomes more difficult to discern our ‘selves’ from our ‘ideas’. Without embracing an intentional life-long learning posture, adults resort to defending existing ideas, even to the point of hostility – at that point, it’s clear the person has ceased learning, and is more concerned about being right and securing themselves in supposed certainty.

Learning requires humility. Certainty is a dangerous quality. Is the nature of faith consistent with certainty? Is confidence the same as being certain?

Read those 6 aspects again, ask yourself how many learning environments you are presently participating in that provide these? If you are a teacher or leader of some kind, do you design spaces that provide them? If you don’t, pretty good chance it’s more about the teaching (or perhaps the teacher!) than the learning. There’s a place for authoritative instruction obviously, but we ultimately learn and grow through integrating, practicing, processing, and discussing. We need to stop thinking once the input has been provided, that the learning is over.

In adult education, the learner is the primary starting point, and measurable learning itself the goal. Learning is a process, not an end.. a posture, not a result.

Safety involves the challenge of dissent. Challenge is not a fear. Fear stops learning, freezes creativity and spontaneity, shuts down laughter and destroys community.

Vella

It’s really interesting to take the theories and read scripture through their lens. In the Gospels for example, Jesus uses so many open questions, drilling down to the heart of the issue but allowing the listener/learner to find the answer without simply being told.

We love learning, increasingly. It’s not easy, but deeply rewarding to cease from striving to know everything. In our family we’re devouring books, all kinds of podcasts, and it seems none of us are studying the same things. Some like philosophy, others history, science. It’s a free for all at the Crowe house in the battle of ideas. The more you truly learn (not just acquire information), the more you realize we really know so very little! If we are called to be disciples, we need to be skilled at letting go, and applying new. I’m learning that the greatest gift to our own children, and those we lead, is our own learning and growing.

Certainty is the enemy of learning. To make more learners, our Master’s final command. Notice Jesus didn’t call His followers to be knowledgeable, but disciples, learners!

Graph Copyright Global Learning Partners – Click here to visit it!

What kind of a learner are you? How do you most effectively learn?

The art of designing learning spaces. It’s sad to think how most church’s, at least from my experience, are quite terrible at emulating learner-focused ways of Jesus and have simply copied the power structures of the world. Fortunately there are a number of wonderful resources available that help us deconstruct our concepts of teaching and learning. I highly recommend the book “On Teaching and Learning” by Jane Vella and anything by the late Malcolm Knowles. If you are like me and don’t have time for fluffy theory but practical tools for designing learning space, in steps, and with examples, get her book. It will flip your western, individualistic concepts of learning on their head, and you’ll like it 🙂

Learning is not a task or problem; it is a way to be in the world. Humans learn as they pursue goals and projects that have meaning for them.

Vella

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

Alvin Toffler 

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