I’ll let you in on a bit of my past. School for me was, well not for me, right from the start. School and I simply did not get along. It is not that I didn’t have interests that were covered in school curriculum. Something about the classroom experience and the delivery of information really didn’t suit me. I guess I had some difficulties settling in to the routine and understanding what was happening and what was being taught.
This is the story of how I came to learn about education and became educated about learning. Most important, it is about how I came to learn how to learn. If that sounds strange to you. Keep reading. You might be interested in why learning is more important to me than education.
As I scraped through the grades, made to repeat a grade when we moved from the U.S. to Canada, I began to live for the weekends. In later grades, I needed to forget the week and find some way to enjoy the weekend. I hated Sunday night and Monday mornings. Parties and drinking became weekend norms. By grade twelve, with just passing grades, I vowed to never set foot in an academic environment again.
Today, I still struggle with plenty of life, yet, I have managed to avoid alcohol for over 30 years and have earned an M.Ed. among other certificates and diplomas. How did this happen? What do I know now that has made the difference?
Let’s pick up the trail after grade twelve and race through a few years. After working in a dairy, I decided to go to college to learn about printing. I didn’t consider this academic and thus not breaking my vow, even when I studied some journalism. The number of educators who have strongly influenced me during my life have been few. One was an associate music teacher in high school. Yes, there were a few positive experiences. This teacher asked me if I would like to do an entertainment review for the local newspaper. My response, ‘But I’m barely squeaking through in English.” His, “You know what you like and don’t like, so just write what you think.” So began a small career as a part-time entertainment reviewer that lead me to take some journalism so I could get more free press passes to shows.
After working in the printing industry for a few years, I managed to get my hands on a Mac Plus computer to teach myself the new prepress method then known as desktop publishing. Soon, I found myself doing some training. One other piece of the puzzle developed when I was contracted by an educational institution to help develop a new distance education project using an online groupware product I was a representative for. I ended up writing the first course and delivering it to the group of instructors who developed the courses and programs at the institution. I had little understanding of what I was doing. I remember the project manager saying “To ensure your long-term participation in this project, you might what to get some training in developing training courses.” We traded some work for the Instructional Skills workshop, part of the Provincial Instructor Diploma.
During that workshop, the reality of the world of education and learning began to be revealed to me. Wait, was this academic, could I actually learn something and enjoy it? Even more surprising, this shy guy actually ended up standing in front of people to teach a short lesson. I enrolled in another course and got to really grapple with my own learning. It was a tough slog. I had to find my learning legs. I had to apply the little I had already learned about learning to my own learning. Finally, I learned a few things about how to learn, how I learn.
In the following years, I completed the Provincial Instructor Diploma, the Advanced Diploma in Adult Education, a Leadership Coaching Certificate and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction. Perhaps one day I’ll continue my story about learning. For now, let me talk a bit about education and learning.
What comes to the forefront of your mind when you think of school, education, or learning? What is the difference? What do they look like to you?
Would it surprise you if I stated that education, to me is a production machine? It is an attempt to bring about the result of learning to the masses of society and to indoctrinate them into the norms of society; to make citizens who can function within the framework of society, meet the employment needs of corporations and to behave in an acceptable manner. That may sound like a strong accusation of a major societal institution, yet, this is what school is about.
The institution of education is so massive that it actually has a number of difficulties. When you think of school you probably think of a classroom of tables and chairs and the teacher at the front of the room teaching. The sage on the stage as we came to call it. Educators now know so much more about how people learn than when I went to school. With this research, one might think that the school experience would be quite different. Perhaps it is, slightly, but in truth the machine keeps churning as usual. Even with the ability to deal with the students who struggle or have other differences or challenges, the system can’t help in ways that could make a huge difference.
In the past, less was known about what the problems really were, or how to provide assistance. Those who did not fit in, might be labelled as troublesome or lazy. Today, research has revealed much about how people learn, yet, notions such as mainstreaming all students or financial cutbacks have limited improvements to education. In addition, the educational machine is very slow to change and seems to be entrapped by the expectations of what school and education should look like—people expect it should look the way it looked when they went to school. Teachers teach the way they were taught.
Here’s the point. So much more is known about how we learn. From varying the delivery of instruction and teaching to meet learning styles to brain research, the educational experience should be so different from what it is. In addition, we now know that creative, innovative thinking needs to be developed in learners to meet the complex needs of society today. Employers are constantly changing what they are looking for in potential employees.
Since education seems inadequate, at least to me, I tend to focus on learning. Now, you should understand why education to me is a formal ridged, inflexible processing machine. What I seek are creative learning solutions. I’ll probably write more about creative learning solutions. Perhaps a series. Watch for it.