Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Conditions of Learning" Exercise

The "conditions of learning" exercise can be done by any group, large or small, interested in building a framework together and at the local level for teaching and learning.

It's based on the belief that asking the right questions allows for constructing understanding and solutions, and that answers to significant educational challenges should come from within those involved and at the most local level possible.

We start by having the group identify the most significant learning experiences from their own individual lives, and then use those experiences to understand the conditions that are really needed for learning to occur.

The Exercise

Please feel free to use this exercise. If you do so, please credit Steve Hargadon as the creator.

It starts with the question: "Can you remember a specific experience when you felt like you were really learning--when you were deeply engaged and growing as a learner?" (I usually have to say, "inside or outside of school" for a school audience, as they may feel they are supposed to pick an academic moment when that is often--even usually--not the case.)

Just talking about those experiences typically evokes really good feelings. They are usually stories that have become scaffolding for how we see ourselves and our lives. Or they are touchstone or "velcro" (have stuck to us) stories by which we measure other experiences we have.

These experiences almost always involve feelings: feeling supported, or challenged, or trusted, or encouraged, or inspired. And these feelings almost always have come from one other person, in very individual interactions that respected our agency and our desires for self-direction. Someone took the time to really help me understand how to do something, or someone understood what I needed, or someone believed I could do something, or someone cared enough to take extra time to help me...

As you can imagine, the answer is never "that test I took in fourth grade." Maybe it was a challenging class assignment, but it still had a caring individual who understood how the challenge would help you.

The exercise can stop there, just with the sharing of those experiences, since in and of themselves they provide a really valuable lesson in how we actually influence others.

But there is a very good follow-on question:  "What were the conditions that led to that experience?" For deep learning and growth to take place, and for human interactions that support, challenge, or inspire others--how can we create the conditions for those kinds of experiences and interactions?

Whether we're talking about a family, a class, a school, a community, or a work environment, thinking about the conditions for real learning and growth reminds us that influencing others authentically is about touching human feelings and creating opportunities to do so.

​Update form Marie Bjerede:  "We did the exercise twice in two different districts.  The first one went approximately the same as when you did it. The second time we did something a little different.  The room came up with about 4 conditions that they felt were critical. We then used those as the basis of an inquiry exercise where they broke into groups, researched each of them, and reported back on what those conditions really meant and where they came from and what the research said about them.  Then they brainstormed about how to bring them into their schools.  It was a great way for them to get the feeling of what self-directed learning feels like while thinking about what great learning experiences really are and how to create them!!​"

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