Learning to love learning. Three weeks ago I did something for the very first time in my life. I cut hair. Of my son. He’s 22 years old. Fortunately, he is unlikely to see anyone in person, outside of my wife and I, for many weeks to come and typically, likes his hair cut very short. It was relatively low risk. If my shaking hand was any indicator though, it was clear that I was very keen not to get it badly wrong for him, you know, like cut off an ear or something.
My initiation into the world of hairdressing was pre-empted by watching as many Youtube videos as I could find on cutting short hair. I needed to get some basics worked out. I have watched different barbers over the years cut my own hair so, whilst I had some vague idea, the best that can be said was I had been engaged in some passive absorption about how to cut hair. Now I needed to learn more purposefully.
And lockdown has encouraged many of us to learn. From skills, such as: guitar, cooking, artistry in many forms, to developing different attitudes such as: patience and empathy and new facts too, such as: the meaning and importance of R. It made me think about how much we can and do learn every single day and this despite the fact that many people consider themselves poor learners. Indeed, the World Bank’s report published in January 2019 suggested we are in the middle of a global learning crisis.
It is a tired insult that formal education focuses solely on the ability to memorise and recall content. And even if schools were still heavily focused on learning for recall, which they are not, can you say you have really learned something if you are unable to recall it from memory? The truth is schools, colleges and universities perform a vital societal function. Whilst, like all sectors, there is a range of quality across ‘education’ the importance of the work for individuals and societies is enormous. It’s just that education and learning aren’t the same thing. I’m reminded of my time as a teacher in the 1990s when the Government changed the emphasis of teaching to include learning, the result was that all teacher training days for a while centred on “teaching and learning.”
Towards the end of my teaching career this was flipped 180 degrees to “learning and teaching,” squarely emphasising the primacy of outcome over methodology.
The one area that I suggest formal education still hasn’t got quite right, is the centrality of learning in service of testing. The message this sends to millions of youngsters is that learning exists primarily as a gateway to a judgement of your capabilities, which often gets misinterpreted as judgements about you the person. And if you fall short in that judgement regularly, it can reinforce the message that you aren’t an effective learner. And that is a shame for you, not necessarily true of your capabilities as a learner in all contexts. It is also a potential blocker of your appetite for future learning, formal and informal – that you might both benefit from and find pleasure in, across the rest of your life.
Learning to love learning …
I have a confession. I can quite happily learn just for the sake of learning. As my family often tease me, I’ll stop and read any blue plaque I see attached to a building or as many of the signs in museums and art galleries as I can get away with, before I’ve overly tested the patience of whoever I am with. The purpose: little more than serving my deep sense of curiosity. I love to learn. But is there really a place for learning for the sake of learning? As a a pragmatist I have tended to take a position on the side of learning for a specific purpose but very often, this conviction has been debunked, as I learn something that it is just wonderful to know with no obvious application.
And I wonder if that is really the key: find things you love to learn about. Develop a curiosity about those areas and then hope that/manage to, widen this love of learning to other parts of your life that would be of great benefit to you, to others, to your work and society.
“Short back and sides anyone?”