I had a very interesting conversation today about learning and the evolution of how people learn at the Sales Leadership Conference in Philly.

There are many theories, the experiential learner, the person who learns through structure. Concepts that have been explored for centuries at all levels. As a parent it manifests as your beliefs in public, private, Montessori, fully without structure, home schooling and on an on. In the end, I believe there isn’t a one size fits all. We will all learn in different manners and it is about access, so that we can learn in the way that best suits us.

But one thing that is becoming very clear is that learning is changing in that what you know isn’t as important, it is about knowing how to sift through information and find knowledge. Sure, a base level of information is important, but knowing how to find perspective on a problem and apply it is much more important.

Seth Godin was a headline speaker and he had an interesting perspective on the evolution of learning, as it relates to his theories on tribes (I am about to watch his video’s on TED). He did a little test on a few children aged 11-14 who were A students. He put a bobbing bird in front of them and asked them to explain how it worked. They looked side to side and then the 11 year old pulled out a pen and said ‘Teach us how it works’. His point was that getting an explanation is easy. You can get that on the web, on Wikipedia in an instance. He stated if you can write it down and explain it, it probably isn’t worth anything and teaching that young person how it worked is of no value.

But what is of value is creative thinking. The ability for those children to puzzle out that idea, to be creative, to figure it out. To think and solve problems. Something that our formulaic schools system is not interested in, school is focused on compliance and having people fit in. Can you imagine trying to explain to a teacher the method to teaching creativity? He also pointed to the games that we play as kids. He said ‘remember the game Candyland? We all played it and the rules are this – pick a card, do what it says’. Become sheep.

I always worry that the rigid approach to learning kills creativity. As one HBR blogger put it in his article ‘What Leaders can Learn from Children’ :

the curiosity of a child is incomparable. Children ask questions because they want to know. Naturally curious, hungry for information, and constantly churning new facts to understand the world around.

Seth then put up a quote which I found rather ominous:

‘The reason why they want you to fit in is so that when you do, they can ignore you’

I think he is right on the mark. In a world drowning with information, it isn’t about what you can memorize. It isn’t even about what you can find (although it is good to be able to find information quickly in the sea of data) and one really has to question the value of a test that grades based on the quality of your memory (when the reality is, the internet is a big memory bank – available virtually everywhere). It is about how you use that information to be creative, to come up with ideas, how you interpret it.

I also suggest that the vast majority of tests should be open book. Find the information fast, then do something with it – and be graded on how you use it.

And of course, challenge the norm. Something that hasn’t ever been a real personal challenge (smile).

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