Making connections in learning: joining the dots

It’s about four inches long and cost £30, enough money that i don’t want to have to buy another one, but i can’t find it anywhere. In white, with an iPad connector on one end and an HDMI socket the other, it’s the magic piece of hardware that connects the iPad to the TV and it’s got itself lost somewhere among the old phone chargers and ubiquitous USB cables in the drawer.

Which got me thinking about connections.

Sometimes things just click: you hear something and, like dominos, everything else falls into place. Sometimes these connections are ones that you’ve been searching for, whilst others are random, moments of inspiration or clarity that come from nowhere. I find them most often when reading. Something clicks and i think ‘i can use that somewhere’. A pattern of thought or an idea that links up various other buzzing loose ends in my brain. My next thought is invariably ‘how do i hang onto it’. There must be hundreds of these ideas that have burnt and fizzed out, to remain lost in the pages of long completed books.

Connections are the things that help us take learning out of the abstract and into the everyday: how can i use this knowledge or skill in the real world? How does what you are telling me relate to what i already know? Making connections is the process of rationalising what i am learning against what i already know and deciding what my new picture of reality looks like.

Learning is not a process of cause and effect. Studying engineering may make me a better technical engineer, but people get inspiration from the shape of a flower or the curl of a snails shell. You can learn facts, but connections go beyond that. You may be a better leader by studying leadership, but you may be the best leader by taking inspiration from someone you admire: not by copying them, but by simply realising that two plus two does not have to equal four.

I see the challenge in learning design in not trying to engineer in these connections, but rather to create the space for reflection that can allow them to happen. It’s too easy to revert to a ‘tell’ mindset, to assume the ’cause and effect’ model works, that somehow we have to tell people what connections to make: if you do this, then you will achieve that. But learning can go beyond this if we celebrate the fact that inspiration can come from many different places, that learning is more than just an single, abstract experience.

So whilst none of this is going to help me get the TV working, i guess it’s made me think about the importance of connections, which isn’t the worst result.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Connections, Leadership, Learning and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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