Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Life-long learning (2016 Term 1 Week 5)

Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about 'life-long learning'. In part this has been driven by my experience of commencing study for an Executive MBA, which is the reason that I have been absent from school (and from blogging) for the last fortnight. Returning to the role of a student has been challenging, not least because I have grown very comfortable in my role as an authority and expert in my usual context! 

The preamble to the Inaburra Learner Profile says: Standing upon our Christian foundation and in partnership with our families, Inaburra seeks to shape life-long learners ... It sounds good, but what is a life-long learner? (Note: it certainly doesn't mean a 'life-long student'.)

I think that the life-long learner is the person who is able to integrate and utilise their knowledge and skills from formal learning, non-formal learning (sport, music, co-curricular etc) and informal learning (general life experiences) in order to take on challenges and obstacles.This person learns through applying their existing knowledge and skills to new situations; in doing so, they expand their capacity.

In the OECD publication The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, life-long learning is described in terms of adaptive expertise - which is the ability to transfer knowledge and skills flexibly and creatively from one context to another. We routinely see students struggle to do this in a maths class; they may have thoroughly learned a concept in one topic but fail to see its applicability to another topic. A similar situation emerges with essay writing, where the skills developed in crafting paragraphs in English are not in evidence in short-answer questions in Economics or History.

It may seem simple, but transference of knowledge and skills does not happen automatically. I was reminded of this last week. The cohort of twenty highly-qualified, experienced and senior managers who are taking on the EMBA had spent a day at Randwick Barracks, learning about leadership from the Army. Among other things we had learned about a range of models for managing decision-making, planning and communicating and we had some experience of utilising those models. However, in a highly-pressured scenario from the world of public relations the following day, not one of us thought to apply the learning we had just experienced. 

We were a little embarrassed when this was pointed out to us in the debrief!

As I reflected on the experience, I think that the main obstacle to us transferring our new learning was that we didn't make or take the time to reflect on the challenge before us. We just rushed to get the task done and we used our habituated 'tools' to do so. Taking the time to ask 'What is it exactly that we need to do?' and 'What are the possible ways that I can do this?' would have transformed our efforts.

One of the things that I am taking away from the last fortnight of learning is the importance of reflection. I think that the activity-oriented busyness of life actually prevents me from being the life-long learner that I want to be. This is not an argument for laziness; reflection is hard work, requiring discipline and focus. It is far easier just to keep charging on. I want to build the habit of considered reflection into my practice.

The learning continues ...

1 comment:

  1. Last Sunday, our guest speaker in church spoke about the importance of curiosity in dealing with conflict: instead of being certain of what the other person was doing or motivated by, to ask why they were saying and doing the things they were doing. It seems to me that this is also a key underlying principle or trait for the first two learner profiles and would work really well with the reflection you've highlighted in this blog post.