Full disclosure: I love school.
Even high school. And not because all my friends were there and I was into the social aspects. I wasn’t popular like that. I loved the actual school part of high school. Even homework. Sure, I did it in the library at lunch because I needed my after-school time for sports. But I didn’t mind having to do that. No complaints. I even went back to school because after six years out of the classroom, I started to get a little twitchy.
I know what you’re thinking: Nerd alert. Guilty.
I also know, now, that my love for formal education is completely predisposed. I’m the kind of person that can digest new information exactly the way most public schools serve it. Lectures and class notes, homework sheets and reading assignments, class presentations and discussion. Sign. Me. Up.
When I went back to school last fall, I finally figured out why that works for me. And how it can work for you, too.
We spent a lot of time in class talking about the Adult Learning Model. The theory that adults learn by first conceptualizing their problem and a possible solution, then experimenting with their solution and collecting data about their success, reflecting on that data, and integrating it back into their concept about their problem and their world in general. And then beginning again at the top of the loop. Re-conceptualizing the problem and re-thinking their hypothetical solution. And round. And round. And round.
The reflection and integration piece is where the learning occurs. But it can only occur after experimentation. The experimentation has to be deeply linked to the adult’s concept of the world. And you get extra points for challenging yourself and working outside your comfort zone.
What does that have to do with my high school? Everything.
I’m a scientist to the core. And an introvert. I naturally turned every assignment into an experiment. It wasn’t busy-work to be done, but an opportunity to test what I had begun to conceptualize in class. The grade? That’s data about my success and failure. Something to internalize and help formulate my next attempt. My next experiment.
I used to get pissed at my dad for always looking at my scores and asking me what happened to the points I missed. Even when I got a 98%! What happened to the other two points? He’d say. Infuriating! Is nothing good enough for you?! And yea, that probably exacerbated my perfectionism (we’ll talk about self-worth another time), but it also kept me learning. I could have set that paper aside. I got the A! But instead I took the time to reflect and integrate and re-conceptualize and loop back through the model.
The Adult Learning Model.
I think we call it that because once we’re adults we’re unwilling to sit quietly at our desks, mouths gaping open for a firehose of lecture notes. When we were kids we didn't know any better. We just know that most of us thought school sucked. But when we were little kids, we couldn’t sit quietly all day if our lives depended on it. Think back. Was your kindergarten teacher using The Adult Learning Model? I bet she was…
And that’s really the point of this post.
It’s not an Adult Learning Model. It’s a Human Learning Model. And if you're a human, it’ll work for you. Inside the classroom, or out. All you need is a desire to learn and a source of new information. Teachers. Books. Coaches. Apprenticeships. Mentors. TED Talks. Webinars. Journal Articles. Your own experience. You name it.
New skills. New ideas. New ways of doing things. You can learn anything, if you follow the steps:
- Digest the new information. Think about how it applies to your situation and your previous experience. What does it mean to you? How could it help you accomplish your task?
- Design an experiment. What are you going to do to apply this new information?
- Collect data. What’s happening? Is it working? Are you accomplishing what you set out to accomplish? How? What’s not working?
- Reflect on the data. What went well? What didn’t go so well?
- Integrate. How does this new data apply to your situation and your previous experience? Allow yourself to be challenged! Does it completely overturn your idea about how things work? That’s a good thing! It means you’re learning! How could this new concept help you accomplish your task?
- Design a new experiment, and loop around again.
As you can see, it’s simple. Just a few steps to greatness. The trouble is, simple as it is, it’s not easy. Getting outside your comfort zone, letting yourself be challenged, overturning long-held beliefs and ideas, that all takes work and courage and persistence. And more than that, it takes the belief that you actually will come out successful at the other end, but you might have to loop through over and over and over and over again before you actually do.
I dare you to believe it. Because it’s true. It’s how humans learn.
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