What makes you a good learner?

How much do you think about how you learn? What about what you learn? A lot, a bit, not at all?

This is a question you should ask yourself. You should ask your kids. Your friends. Your parents.

Learning never stops. Even if you’re not aware or you don’t call it learning. It’s happening. And if you’re able to control it, you’re going to be 10x better at what you’re doing.

“The ability to learn on one’s own has become a prerequisite for living in this new world.”

Malcolm Knowles

This statement belongs to Malcolm Knowles. He was an American adult educator, famous for the adoption of the theory of andragogy and credited with being a fundamental influence in the development of the Humanist Learning Theory.

He wrote it almost 50 years ago in Self Directed Learning: A guide for learners and teachers. And I personally came to believing the heck out of him.

Through his book, he encourages readers to turn from reactive to proactive learners. He goes down the rabbit whole, explaining first the theory behind the concept, the difference between teacher directed learning and self directed learning, pedagogy vs. andragogy, turning back to examples and tools every step of the way.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a learner or a facilitator. This book will set the ground for becoming or developing self directed learners.

In the last 50 years, the need to become a better learner has increased dramatically. The speed of technological changes is only one-factor driving change in the way we learn.


Pedagogy vs Andragogy

To give you a short intro into the difference between this two, I will leave here the basics of both theories.

Pedagogy comes from the greek — “paid” (child) + “agogus” (leader). It’s the science focusing on teaching kids.

Andragogy comes from the same language — “aner” (man) + “agogus” (leader). And it’s the art and science of teaching adult learners.

The main difference comes from our nature as human beings. When we grow, we tend to seek independence. From our parents, teachers and other adults.

Andragogy reffers to learning independence.


How does the public education look right now?

I don’t know about you, but I live in a country where the public educational changes are not so fast-paced. Where bureaucracy often stands in the way of innovation. Where our mental models still dictate our kids should go to school from 6 to sometimes 25 years old. All going through the same content established by the Ministry of Education. Labelled by the grades they get as poor or amazing learners.

God forbid you want to drop out of school yourself or home school your kid! Neither of you will have a future!

Kids start school being curios and having brains that absorb information like sponges. Instead of taking advantage of these natural abilities, school turns them into factory workers. Factory workers not equipped to face the reality of this world.

Think about your feeling when you graduated and got your first full-time job. How ready did you feel to manage your resources, to organize your learning process? How confident were you that you’re in the right field, doing what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs?


What kind of learners does the educational system nurture?

Looking at my journey in the Romanian educational system I identified some skills I needed to succeed as a student:

  • Being able to listen carefully. To all the things the teachers preach.
  • Having the ability of speed writing and speed reading . To make sure all the material the teacher passes is within my reach when I start learning.
  • Having a great memory . To recall word by word what the teacher said.
  • Carefully analyse what questions I could get at exams. So I could focus on learning those exact things.

Now, you might think — aren’t those useful skills? Speed reading, speed writing, a great memory are pretty useful. I’m not challenging, though, their utility, but the way we use them in school.

We are not taught in school

  • “how to have a great memory” — they just tell us we should.
  • what “speed reading” is — we just know we have to do it.
  • there are millions ways to question what we hear — we know we can’t do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against teachers, parents or other school employees. I know they do everything they can with the resources they have and in the infrastructure provided.

But I know we can do better. At least those of us who are aware of it and interested in growing and making a change.


Types of learners

Knowles categorised learners in two types, the one above being the reactive one. The learner waiting to be taught by the teacher.

Until 50–40 years ago, this type of learner could have succeeded. There wasn’t that much knowledge out there or within our reach. There were, for sure, less opportunities than today. Everything you needed to learn to have a decent, good life, you could have learned in your childhood years.

There are two things happening pushing the change forward:

  • Things change as fast as you blink. What you learn now, might not be valid in the next 5–10 (damn, maybe 3) years.
  • Inquiry skills are the most valuable to progress as human beings. Staying in class and listening to what others have written or thought is not enough anymore.

To survive and thrive in a highly competitive world we need to become proactive learners.


A new species of learners

You might have read about proactive learning as long life learning or self-directed learning. All three define the same type of individual eager to take charge of his learning journey.

Knowles defines self-directed learning as “a process in which individuals take the initiative without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying human and material resources, and evaluating learning outcomes”

The skills you can draw from this definitions are:

  • Learning needs assessment. Having the ability of diagnosing where you are, where you want to get and what will get you there.
  • Setting learning goals. Laying down clear, time boxed, measurable goals.
  • Identifying learning resources. Knowing what are your resources (be them human, material or experiential).
  • Progress tracking. Following your progress and knowing where you stand on the journey from tabula rasa to achieving your goal.
  • Evaluation. Knowing how to check if your learning process has been successful.

This skills were pretty alien to me back when I started researching learning theories. But the benefits of having them are bigger than any other skill.

Becoming a proactive learner will not only help you guide your learning process. It will make you retain and use more of what you learn.

Isn’t this the dream in a world where knowledge is power?

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