Musings on Education, Part 3: Where learning really takes place – a way forward?

Part 1:  “Education” is increasingly being treated as if it can be a business-able service.  Nah. It can’t really. “Training”? Sure:  Training can be a business, but not education.

Part 2:  I have been designing, staging, and offering educations for 22 years.  But 99% of my students don’t want an education . They want the outcomes of an education. Different product.  I have been trying to “educate” when I should have simply been “delivering”.

Part 3:  Where learning really takes place – a way forward?

I am an educator.

I stand on the side and coach, facilitate, guide, encourage,  honour, and stage learning experiences where the students are the actors and the audience at the same time.

I am the director, the playwright, the stage manager, the acting coach, and the usher.

These activities and roles are in my blood. They are what I am, not something I do.  I work from the heart in helping others grow as human beings.

I cannot “deliver” education. I cannot lecture or be the “sage on the stage”.  To me, education is only about active, engaged, human development. Not about “knowledge acquisition”.

But knowledge acquisition is what the system is designed to do.  And for the most part the players in it are comfortable with that design, desire it to be that way, and actively support it being that way.

And the “players” include students.

Oh, the students say they want an education, but they don’t, really (see Part 2).  Again, they really only want the desired outcomes of an education.  The actual “education” part? Well it is something they will try hard to “game” their way around.  Or avoid completely, if possible.

Because simply put, acquiring an education is a messy, non-linear, challenging, emotional, and uncertain experience.

And who wants all that when you can have the nice and tidy opposite?

The conundrum

Well, if students don’t want an “education”, and I really can’t “deliver” the goods they do want –  a nice comfy linear mental “knowledge fill-up” process leading to the outcomes they desire, then what role do I have to play from this point forward?

In other words, I am an “educator” and the system wants “delivery men and women”.

And I am tired of twisting myself into a pretzel to try to squeeze an education into a system designed for delivering outcomes rather than educations.

I used to sigh and shake my head every time I would arrange my classroom tables and chairs so that students could work in teams or face each other. In doing so they could engage with each other in learning.  These classroom structures are based on all the best principles of adult education – principles that encourage ownership of learning, engagement, responsibility taking, discussion, teamwork, communication skill building, and active learning.  Principles that have been clearly documented for 50 years. 100 years. Oh wait, even from earlier than that…

Then, the next teacher in the classroom, or the students themselves, would dutifully put the tables and chairs back into neat rows facing the front, so that delivery could take place. So that they could pass authority, power, and responsibility back to the teacher.  Just where it belonged.

But the classroom desk re-arrangement game is not funny anymore.  After two decades of trying to educate in a system that wants a linear,  mechanical, knowledge-delivery process , this game is just lame.

I don’t want to play this game anymore. Nor the other pretzel games I have had to play to try to educate in the classroom.

In summary, very few students in my classes now want an education.

But educate is what I do.

A conundrum.

Where learning really takes place, and a possible way forward…

But wait!  Hang on.  Enough sucking of my proverbial thumb.

Some tough questions to ask myself:

1.  Is it fair to say that all students don’t want an education?

Answer: No. Of course it is unfair. Some small percentage do seem to want an education.  And the rest?  They will learn in their own way in their own time. If not in the classroom, then in other ways and for many, later in life.

But some small percentage are ready to learn…right now.

2.  Does learning actually take place in the classroom?

Answer:  Well, it can, in principle. But in practice, given the structure of the higher education system as “delivery” oriented, and given that most people in it want the structure to be that way, then no:  “Filling up” at a knowledge level certainly happens, but learning as I understand it does not actually take place in the classroom – not in the traditional lecture based classroom where assessments are designed to test knowledge or designed for students to mimic mechanical processes.  And even if you offer rich learning experiences, most students don’t want them. They actually want a delivery mode instead. In my most recent teaching terms, students have actually been rejecting engaging in rich learning experiences. Some even walk out of the classroom and don’t return, skipping some or much of my term in favour of spending their time “studying the really important courses” (read:  ones that allow them to learn in a linear, mechanical, knowledge-based manner).

3. Where does learning actually take place, then?

Well if rich learning doesn’t take place in the classroom, where does it take place?

Answer:  In a dozen other places!  In student reflections – both alone and over coffee with a friend. In work experiences or co-op educations. In social events on campus and off.  In late night chats.  In office meetings with professors who care.  In….

Not in the classroom, but outside of the classroom!

In one-on-one meetings and small group discussions.  And with larger groups of students who choose to learn.

Where learning is emotionally safe.

And when learning is on a student’s own schedule and when they decide to learn.  Even if this means after they have run into the barriers of their own limits and have come to realize that they need change and grow in ways that simple knowledge acquisition can’t deliver.

And so a possible way forward begins to emerge:

I have been trying to educate in the classroom, where education can’t really take place.

Maybe I should explore how I can help students learn outside of the classroom!

Maybe this is in one-on-one sessions, with small groups, and with larger gatherings of students who want and choose to learn.

Maybe I have simply been in the wrong setting and at the wrong point in their development.

Or maybe I have simply outgrown the classroom setting.

In either case, a way forward begins to emerge for me:  a point and new perspective to start exploring from…