Are we ever smart enough to know how we learn?
A customer who is dissatisfied and does not want to pay for a 24-hour challenge. Fellow students who put their heels in the sand. Customers who do not call back. Coming to the conclusion after 2 weeks that you have not earned anything yet. A fellow student who ends up in the hospital. Never a dull moment on a Learning Journey!
When I browse through the film of the 5 week first years’ Learning Journey in Bucharest, I see a group of young adults making great jumps both as a group and as an individual. I realize that the formula of a Learning Journey works brilliantly. Being with a large group for 5 weeks abroad, not speaking the local language, linguistic and cultural differences within the group, having to face up to external challenges, finding out that you have the same avoidance behavior, having to negotiate with difficult customers. Its difficult to choose a metaphor for this kind of learning. A space lab? A monkey rock? A lab it certainly is! Coping with reality means constant recalibration for the team. The participants themselves mention clear communication, teamwork, taking initiative, and taking personal responsibility as their main learning points, among others.
In practice, terms such as ActionLearning and Learning by Doing are popular. They are used to indicate the difference with classical frontal education. The emphasis is on direct experience, and that makes Experiential Learning quite hip. During the Learning Journey I noticed that this sometimes leads to an ‘addiction to experiences’. With addiction I mean that more stimulation is needed to get the same kick (half-life). It may lead to hopping from one experience to another, without taking the time to stand still; to reflect. And reflection is needed to know what and how we learn from experience.
Between Stimulus and Response there is a space called Learning
Reflection means that you can also learn from what went wrong. In this we differ -all be it slightly- from monkeys. By thinking you can conclude that you have overlooked something, made a miscalculation, overestimated yourself. This awareness can lead to new behavior in a subsequent situation. Reflection thus leads to an increase of alternatives for action, increasing the personal space.
In fact, the expression ‘Learning by doing’ should be replaced by ‘Learning from Reflection’. But mmm, that does not sound quite as sexy.
About 40 years ago there was a brilliant book; the ‘One-minute manager’. I propose a challenging variant: ‘The One-minute Reflectioner’. After a strong experience, take a minute to think with your eyes closed: what did I want to achieve? What is the reality? What else can I do next time? What will my first step be? This is a few steps further than simply ventilating frustrations or blowing off steam. It means taking accountability for your behavior, considering a situation as influenceable, continuing to think in terms of alternatives, and continuing to learn. Long live the Reflective Practitioner!
Be a Reflective Practitioner
Pause before a meeting. Pause before judging. Pause before assuming.
Pause before talking. Pause whenever you are about to react offensive or defensive. You will learn, and you will avoid doing or saying things you regret later.
Pause directly after a meeting. Take a minute, and think!
Practice the One Minute Reflection!
By Franz Schwab, one of the teamcoaches of the 1st-years.
Get in touch with him via firstname.lastname@example.org.