Education and learning, for good reason, go together. As we teach, do we assume the learner learns and therefore we are educating? Minds clearly have different levels of neuroplasticity; perhaps we often fail to recognize this in our learners. Learning can happen in spite of bad education, not only because of good education. It occurs outside of the formal educational setting in spite of poor methodology. This could be classified as indirect learning.
There is no doubt that learners need to gain technical skills and there are very capable educators who can impart those skills. The critical question is, are technical skills sufficient? Do the learners gain life skills and soft skills in a traditional educational setting? Does “cerebral” learning enhance critical life skills in an effective way? Life skills need to be as close as possible to reality, but with adequate levels of physical and psychological safety. There is also the very necessary aspect of the methodology used to educate in the area of life skills. As Todd Miner in his presentation at the International Conference for Experiential Education discussed, if students are always in the comfort zone, or green zone as I call it, little learning may take place, potentially resulting in boredom. On the other hand, if students are in the red zone or panic zone, the learning may actually be as John Dewey says, “miseducative” and again little or no learning may occur. Callousness to learning may be the result (Dewey, 25-26). The zone where most learning occurs is the amber zone. There is arousal; focus on the subject at hand, and interest is developed. There is a level of excitement, anticipation, and the learner recognizes that there will be guidance along with a level of psychological, emotional and physical safety. Mentorship is a key factor to enhance amber zone level of learning.
So, what are some of the principles of encouraging positive learning that avoid the boring and panic zones? In his article “Walkabout,” Maurice Gibbons suggests that education should include adventure and challenge (117-122). In addition, he includes logical inquiry or investigation. What if and then what? This peaks the interest to discover. Self-discovery and creativity are often part of the curiosity. Gibbons also mentions that service is important in educating the learner. Ellen White takes this a step further in stating, “Unselfishness underlies all true development. Through unselfish service we receive the highest culture of every faculty” (White, 16). In the Service Learning classes I have taught, students invariably demonstrate a positive change in life skills and interpersonal relationships, not to mention the increased level of learning, as they engage in experiential education. Service increases purpose to learn. To do something that is not purposeful is boring. This purpose should build some life skills to help learners know how to make decisions that are positive for themselves and all whom they meet. Learners often ask the question, “How will I use this in the future?” or “Will this learning give me ‘the edge’ for graduate school or a job?” The aspect of true service is something that is critical to a positive educational experience.
Evaluation is a part of education and must be included in some aspect. Rather than using it as a motivator or as disciplinary action, try letting it be more a tool used by the student and the teacher so better learning can be attained. This can be both intrinsic and extrinsic. Education should include both action and reflection for the learner and the educator. A farmer does not increase a pig’s weight by weighing it every day. Likewise, students do not necessarily learn concepts that are more meaningful by daily formal evaluations or by meaningless measurement methods. Standardized tests or testing do not necessarily make the student smarter. The process of using appropriate evaluation methods gives positive results.
Education that is exciting and fun for the learner coupled with a committed educator increases the “weight.”
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books.
Gibbons, M. et al. (1976). The Secondary Education (Report of the Phi Delta Kappa Task Force). Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa.
Miner, T. et al. (2011). Bulls-eye: How Comfort Zones Model Works and How to Work Better! Presentation at Association for Experiential Education International Conference. Jacksonville, Florida.
White, E. (1903) Education. Pacific Press Publishing Association, Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.