Unlearning to Learn: How do we change when we keep doing it the same?

Most of us when asked when the education system was put into place, probably couldn’t come up with a historically accurate answer. If someone were to ask you though, how has learning fundamentally changed in the past 300years, could you say with conviction that it has been drastically revolutionized? Where did this all start anyway?

Well, when trade, government and religion was on the rise and being established back in 3100BC, that’s when the skill of writing was brought to life. 

When firsthand experience could not teach such skills as writing and reading, a place devoted exclusively to learning appeared. The school.  Back then the methodology of learning was based primarily on memorization, with the motivation being fear of harsh physical discipline.

On an ancient Egyptian clay tablet discovered by archaeologists, a child had written: "Thou didst beat me and knowledge entered my head."

I can remember very distinctly doing writing and spelling drills in elementary school, memorizing verb charts to conjugate from French to English.  Studying the night before a history test in high school, forcing myself to try to remember dates and facts that held no interest or relevance to me.  I eventually got so bored with learning that I dropped out of high school for a semester.   Coincidentally enough, I’d leave several jobs in my earlier years for the same reason.  

When I got to university, I discovered more of the same.   Sure, I could choose subjects that were more interesting to me, but the delivery and expectations on outcomes were still the same.   I’ll never forget the day I was asked by my academic adviser to come see him to discuss my performance in the first half of my university career.  I was incredibly interested in psychology and took classes to fuel that fire. My fire was immediately extinguished when I was not only put on academic probation due to my failing grades but was actually banned from taking any more of those courses.  Equate this experience to being put on professional performance plans, probation or being let go altogether.  (By the way, the irony of me, nearly 20 years later, being a learning professional with credentials in neuroscience is not lost on me. I wonder if that same academic adviser is still at my university?)   

So, the age-old question of how we can expect things to change if we keep doing it the same way, applies just as much to learning as it does to anything else.  We expect sales to go up, attrition numbers to go down, employees to be more engaged, but have done little in the way of changing the way we learn to enable this. We’ve used  technology to gamify things, create learning management systems, nano/micro learning and online courses, but we’re not using what the spectacular technology has taught us about the inner workings of our brains to evolve the creation and delivery of learning experiences. 

And this is where I come in and what really excites me. I get to be the translator between the science of how the brain learns and the practical application. One of the renegades if you will, with my motivation being to spark curiosity through learning, and teach people how to seek the galaxies of knowledge we are capable of holding in our 3lb masses called our brains, and the universe we form when we bring those together.

YARR for now,

Lauren Waldman a.k.a Learning Pirate

Lauren Waldman