Friday, 27 February 2015

Learning is a journey not a destination

Caught up in another interesting #lrnchat I never cease to be amazed by the number of learning experts who treat learning as if it were an end result.  By the end of this you will... This is one of my pet gripes and what I think is fundamentally wrong with the way we look at learning.  If learning was all about the destination then why bother with the journey at all - there are far easier ways of getting to a destination than taking the long hard path - unless of course the destination is fool's gold, the value comes in the journey part.

A lot of this springs from our desire to think that knowledge is a tangible thing that we can 'get'.  I've written plenty on the subject before (Knowledge is overrated), but think of knowledge as a flowing stream rather than a still pool of water.  You can always use a bucket to catch water, but it's not the water that's the important part, it's the flow.  You can't collect and store knowledge in the way that people often think and lots of this is to do with the simple idea that what is known isn't 100% factual and always going to stay that way.  Yes, we thought the world was flat once and that nothing was smaller than an atom, but more than that everything we know or think we know changes.  How many states are there in America? Was that answer the same a hundred years ago?  Will it be the same a hundred years from now?  The key is not that you know how many states but that you can learn to find out when you need to.

I had a great chat today with someone about learning a language and they used this as an example of why the destination is important.  I think that's the perfect example of why the destination is less important than the journey.  They actually wanted to learn the language to be able to speak with others who speak that language.  Sounds reasonable enough, doesn't it?  I think that at the end if you could 'download' a language Matrix style you'd be able to do that, but would that be the best outcome? What do you learn by trying, failing and conversing with those who have a fluent hold on the language you are still struggling in?  All the good bits I would say, those bits when you get it wrong and learn more about not just the language but the people that speak it and the common mistakes and the colloquialisms that are used along the way.  Perhaps you learn some dialect that's particular to the region and some bad habits, but hey, that's part of the fun too.  If you can achieve enough of your aim to be able to go on holiday to the region and get by with talking with people, learning and correcting as you go I suspect it will all feel rather rewarding.  If you downloaded your language you will be able to speak it to people fine - but that's it.  If language changes (as it does) what do you do?  If you've travelled the path of the learner you adapt with it, you get corrected and that's all good, if you downloaded it you only have one option - download it again.  And here's another good point; on your journey to learn another language what did you learn or discover that you didn't set as your original aim?  I guarantee there's something else in there and it's probably worth more than your initial aim, believe it or not.

So learning isn't just about the objectives we set.  If it was then it would be simple to just state them at the beginning and end and test them with multiple choice exams - hold on a second!  My point is that it's great to have objectives but the desire and need are the real drivers of learning - and learning doesn't happen when you reach your objectives it happens on the way.

Of course as usual I blurted this out and I could be wrong, but my learning is a journey, it hasn't ended and I don't think it will before I do - isn't that the key to learning really - we learn every day right through our lives provided we have the right mindset.  If that's right what are your life objectives and if you reach them what did you learn?  Enough philosophy for a Friday afternoon I reckon...