The journey from ignorance to enlightenment has a start point, although it may never have an end. The first step may not be the hardest, but it has to be taken, or there will be no others. The difference between aspiration and achievement all hinges on that first step.
When we look at how people learn, there are two things we can consider; what gets them to the starting line, and what happens after they have started the journey. If we consider what that emotional and experiential journey looks like, we can provide appropriate support and sharp sticks where needed.
The initial engagement can come from within, or from external pressures. If i want to learn French, i may be doing that because i want to travel there, live there or read French books whilst looking cool in a Bristol cafe, or i may have to learn it because my next job will be there. One the one hand, the pressure may come from within, on the other, from without. This will have an impact on how and indeed whether i take that first, all important step.
A few years ago i did a piece of work with a global organisation, to accompany the launch of their Learning Management System. We wanted to get people thinking about learning, so we stuck with the tried and tested theme of a Learning Journey. In this case, it was both a literal and metaphorical journey, because i jumped into the car and drove, on film around the country (as well as taking to the water and into the air) to meet people. Our journey was to explore how people learn in their own lives, everyday and throughout their lives, and to think about how we learn in work, then to see if there were any experiences, parallels or lessons that we could draw between the two.
We spend time with Eva, just two at the time, as she explored the world by touch, experimentation, play, and we met Garry, who was somewhat older and learning the guitar. Their journeys were different, but there was commonality. Eva’s motivation to explore and learn was non specific, she was just making up stories, trying things out, quite literally hitting things together and monitoring the results, reacting according to whether the outcome was pleasing. There was a lot of repetition in her actions as she identified and exploited strategies that gave consistent results. Garry was more considered in his approach, a seasoned learner. Naturally, he actively considered his learning strategy, a far more reflective approach and one that was aimed at achieving set objectives. Both people were learning, one in an unstructured way, that started with action and monitored reaction, the other in a more considered approach, with a greater level of planning.
As we get older, we are more experienced learners, often highly efficient in using our time and energy, although we can retain and exploit our willingness to just ‘jump on in’. We could explore a thousand of these learning stories, we each have many of them, seeing how our approach changes, dependent both on context and age. There is an underlying point though which is work thinking about. As we get older, we often are more considered before we take the first step. This is, of course, sensible, allowing us to maximise our resources, but it can hold us back.
Maybe in both our own learning, and the solutions that we develop, we should be a little less afraid to just jump in, to take the first step. After all, the point of dipping your toe in the water is that you can pull it out quickly if it’s too cold.