This week I took advantage of an extended holiday to teach my sons how to drive with a stick shift. We went out to an unused stretch of road, and took turns sitting in the driver's seat and trying over and over to get the car to move: (1) forward, (2) smoothly and (3) without stalling.
If you drive a standard transmission, you know that just explaining the process is not enough. You have to try over and over again. You learn by failing a lot, letting someone else have a turn while you think about it, trying again and the next time doing a little better. The teacher (Dad) can demonstrate, repeat, encourage, advise, crack a joke, give a break, but the learning is really in the hands of the learner.
It just dawned on me that there's a key here to something that's bothered me about learning in general, and more specifically about a lot of writing on technology integration in education. It seems there are plenty of cases where the expectations for people learning new IT skills is far higher than the actual learning that is taking place. This gets people thinking about what it means to learn a technical skill versus learning an academic subject like history or math.
In the articles I cited in a post from a few weeks ago (click here), a common thread was that IT skills learning is difficult because there aren't any analogies from our own experiences. I now believe that this is not the case. There are plenty of analogies in our own experience, but those of us who work full time in education probably overlook at lot of "extra-educational" learning that doesn't fit our paradigm of what learning is supposed to look like.
We learn things all the time. The irony is that--except for just learning to remember facts and theories-- almost none of what we really learn comes from sitting in classes, listening to lectures and prepping for exams. Most of what we really know comes from what we do. Most of what we know best comes from what we did wrong the first few times. And most of what we value knowing is learned continuously and interactively with others. David Pollard's list of reasons why people don't use collaboration tools includes:
- the tools are often unfamiliar
- training doesn't match the way people learn
- we're not used to learning with others
I suppose if Pollard thinks of learning only as what I call education (which is not the same thing as learning), then maybe he's right. But if you look away from classrooms and exam halls, and look at how people learn to bake a cake, play a guitar, or drive a stick shift, you'll see all around you that learning is about getting familiar with the tool, with the teacher, and with oneself.
Learning to drive a manual transmission is hard. You fail miserably and repeatedly, burning rubber and getting whiplash, getting embarrassed because your brother is also in the car, and impatient with yourself for not getting it the first time, and then getting a thrill when it all comes together. But that is the only way you will learn to drive a manual transmission. And the day ends with some awesome successes.
As a Dad I wouldn't have it any other way.