Learning To Learn
20th Century Learning
According to the Census Bureau, 88% of the adults living in the U.S. today -- 284,000,000 out of 322,000,000 people -- have finished high school. Individual accomplishments here vary by age, sex, race, and ethnicity. But, this fact not withstanding, it's clear that the vast majority of adults now living and working in the United States have a high school diploma.
On the upside, this fact is important because it suggests that most adults have the knowledge they need to manage their lives. They can read and write. They can pay their bills. Most importantly, because they've spent thousands of hours in various educational environments, they can conceptualize their own experiences and analyze their own strengths and weaknesses. They, if you will, can learn how to learn.
On the down side, these facts are important because they suggest some important difficulties. For example, they suggests that most adults, during their earliest, most formative years, spent an average of 16,800 hours (i.e., 30 hours a week, 120 hours a month, 1,400 hours a year for twelve years) sitting in a classroom caught up in an very traditional teacher-student relationship. Which, research now shows quietly but insistently socializes its students into mindsets that leaves them believing that, whenever they need to learn how to do something new, something important that will help them get along better with their spouse, accomplish more meaningful things at work, or live more satisfying lives, we have to put ourselves back in school again, where, once again, we will have no choice but to spend long hours listening to teachers lecturing us.
21st Century Learning
Today most experts know we don't really have to go back to school when we want to learn something new.. Deanna Kuhn, for instance, has through her research shown us that this old 20th Century "teacher-student approach" of ours is not really either the easiest or the most effective way for us to learn. Especially now, when this new 21st Century of ours is so seriously challenging most of what we think we know about life. Anders Ericsson, in particular, is demonstrating how we, in addition to the formal education we can get through high schools and colleges, also need to leverage the knowledge and insights we get through our formal schooling and transform it into effective self-directed learning experiences. We, he suggests, need to understand our formal educational experiences, whether in high school, college, or training sessions, as the “front-end” of all our real-world learning efforts. For Ericsson, the learning equation we need to be familiar with, and capable of implementing, is this one:
"Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development"
TLO's Learning to Learn Approach
Basically, the key idea here is the realization that knowledge isn't skill. Knowing something isn't the same thing as knowing how to do something. Being smart isn't necessarily automatically equivalent to being effective.
It's time for us to move away from our infatuation with formal education. It's time for us to understand, both philosophically and practically, that knowledge isn't skill. It's time for us to realize that we need to shift to a definition of learning that describes it as a self-generated processes that starts with some kind of educational efforts, but then morphs into uniquely personalized learning experiences where, in a self-directed ways, each of us takes charge of our own learning efforts. Kuhn, Ericsson, and dozens of other experts tell us that each of us need to learn how to initiate, facilitate, and sustain their own personal and professional development. Here at TLO, we're teaching individuals how to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure their own assumptions about knowledge, knowing, and learning. In short, we're in the business of helping adults learn how to learn all over again.
For TLO, none of this is meant to suggest that formal schooling is useless. Rather, we're actually offering you five new propositions about learning that we're convinced describes what's necessary for effective adult learning in this new 21st Century of ours:
#1: Formal 20th Century school-based educational approaches, like those we've all experienced in high school and college, are absolutely appropriate for learning certain concrete subjects, and for developing certain kinds of basic skills. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, for example.
#2: Today, however, class- or training-room-based educational approaches, on their own, are definitely not the best way for us to learn how to strengthen the kinds of complex personal, interpersonal, and/or social problem solving skills we need to strengthen our relationships, improve our problem-solving skills, and/or comprehend, the radical new paradigms currently influencing our lives.
#3: Moreover, school-based approaches to learning, on their own, can never be enough to help us learn how to identity, face, and master the personal, social, and systemic challenges we're all confronting today.
#4: 21st Century issues and challenges require a new, more individualized approach to learning, a personalized way of understanding and pursuing knowledge and knowing. Here at TLO, we believe this new approach is experiential learning.
#5: Given its newness, and the complex and sophisticated ideas, hypotheses, and propositions at its base, we believe experiential learning is best introduced to our adult clients by using a three-phased approach we call INFORM, EDUCATE, and TRANSFORM.
The next time you're thinking about improving skills you already have or developing new skills that you know you need, stop for a moment and think. Ask yourself whether a college program or an off-site training program with a teacher standing up at the head of the room is, when all's said and done, going to offer you the type of experiential learning experiences you need. Will a "classroom approach," no matter how well designed, really end up offering you, over an extending period of weeks and months, the chances you need to intentionally experiment with the new learning to learn skills that will help you move through a Kolb-like learning cycle with Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation steps over and over and over again.