Recently, I’ve been investigating how children learn. It’s been an interesting discussion and has led me to some conclusions which are really relevant in the context of change management and learning in general within the corporate space.
Whilst they are positive about their experiences with regard to their teachers, they also recognise the distance that exists between them. A distance which is probably a factor of age and perhaps experience. This gap / barrier can be described in the following terms:
• Use of language. No matter how ‘down with the kids’ the teacher is, there is a generational gap which leads to different language being used, language which requires some explanation and is open for different interpretation.
• Trust. There’s an inbuilt trust in those who teach as to the authenticity of what they’re saying. This leads to an unwillingness to challenge and question.
• This is reinforced by the third element, which is one of hierarchy. No matter how liberal the school, the classroom has a structure. In some national cultures, this is less predominant than in others but in all cultures it exists and it leads again to an unwillingness to challenge and debate.
When you observe children in peer-to-peer type learning experiences, where they’re given a task to do in a small team, these three factors disappear. There is a hierarchy which is established through the status of the children involved, but the rebate tends to be robust, all ideas are acceptable and language is no longer a barrier or at its worst, a weapon to control. From my discussions and observations, it would seem that some of the most successful or memorable moments of learning occur in these instances.
The gap between student and teacher diminishes as they get older. In emotional terms and in maturity, the relationship between a student and his teacher will narrow as they progress at school to a point at university where it’s probably as small as it can be. And notably, in these tertiary education environments, the role of the professor becomes less about imparting knowledge and almost entirely about stimulating debate, certainly within the tutorial structure, enabling that peer to peer process to operate.
So, when they leave university, what happens? In my experience, some of the most creative, challenging and motivated minds in a corporate environment are thrown straight back into that pre-school / primary school structure again…where learning becomes a data sharing exercise, imparted by trainers whose connection with the new entrants is tenuous at best.
I have written in the past about the power law of work…how the first day, week and month can be the most critical determinants of an individual’s success in his / her workplace. So the question I have is why do we let this most important period of integration be managed using methods and processes which are probably detrimental to the success of those precious resources?