What if there was a simple way of enabling learners to be the best they could be?


It’s the Holy Grail in teaching, to ensure all learners reach their potential, and we have tried all manner of ways to find it.

E-learning concept

What if the answer was staring us in the face all along? Would we recognise it and would we grasp the opportunity with both hands? My experience as a teacher and consultant suggests not. Along with my solution, that of developing Learning Intelligence, here is why we have not taken the opportunity so far.

arrow-with-the-words-hit-your-target-is-pulled-back-on-the-bow-and-is-aimed-at-a-red-bulls-eye-taPoliticians consider it too risky to leave education to what they perceive as chance and imagine they can dictate and control it through inspection and the setting of targets. The trouble with this is we only see the things we are looking for and only hit the things we aim for.  This limits creativity, innovation, and risk taking. It also sets a limit on what can be achieved, if you are required to hit a target at 100m why try to hit it at 1000m? There is no point in making the extra effort. The target has got to be constantly revised otherwise there is no challenge and “moving the goal posts” hardly appears fair when you were so close to achieving it. Targets may do more to de-motivate than to motivate.

Responsibility diagram upadated

Leadership misunderstand their responsibilities. It is often interpreted as the imposing  of policies sent down by politicians, even if it does not foster a learning relationship between the teacher and learner. This behaviour can inhibit them from reacting to local needs and conditions.  The true role of leadership is to ensure only those initiatives and ideas that actually promote the learning relationship are supported.

Teacher and Class 3

I find that teachers are inclined to teach the way they learn and were taught. Perhaps it is difficult to even imagine another way when the way you learnt was so successful for you.  The drive to be a teacher is often to help give the opportunities that became available to you as a result of your education to others, so why do it any differently. Teachers are the instruments by which policy is applied and targets achieved so they have little freedom to explore alternatives or little inclination to take risks.

parents and children

Parents have bought into the passive learning model. Their children go to school to be taught and that model is one they themselves experienced. In this model the responsibility for a lack of achievement is easily directed at the teacher and certainly away from them as parents or their children as learners. They insist the school tries harder, sets more homework, and makes their children learn so long as it does not take up too much of their time.


Employers are not sure what they want an education system to do to prepare young people for the world of work.  We hear that many of the jobs our students will be doing when they leave school don’t exist yet so I suppose this makes it difficult. In the absence of a clear picture of what is required we hear the common call for “the basics”, but often that is left vaguely defined and what is the basics for one employer may not be for another.  Many call for “soft skills”*,  skills that complement the job related or “hard skills”.  Schools are not measured or given targets for these skills so they do not form part of the directed curriculum and therefore are not given a high priority.

diagram of LQ and SAAB

The solution, the one that is staring us in the face. There is a simple way of enabling learners and we can find fragments of it scattered through current and past research, writings, and practices. Some call for better feedback in the learning cycle, building learning power, some for a more mindful approach to learning and others of requiring grit from the learner.


Each has a piece of the jigsaw but no one person or concept has it all.  No one, until now that is, has brought what we know about teaching and learning together under one unifying approach or concept. So we move from one initiative or idea to another. Each time hoping that each will help find the Holy Grail. What we should be doing is unifying our efforts into working with learners to develop their ability to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs. Just take a moment to  reflect on this statement before I go on to explain what this means.

I claim that successful learners are those who are able to interact with their learning environment and that their environment meets their learning needs. This explains why some learners do well at school but not as well as adults and why some learners who struggled in school do well in the real world. Where there is a match between  the school environment and the needs of a particular learner they will do well, where there is not any learner will struggle to reach their true potential in that environment. Other factors must come into play for an individual who is mismatched with their learning environment to achieve their potential.

An analysis of this reality suggests that there are a set of skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours that learners who are successful in any environment have or display. They are able to adapt their environment to meet their needs and overcome environmental limiting factors. I call this “Learning Intelligence” or LQ for short and it represents the way we can help all learners to reach their true potential.

The evidence that supports the concept of LQ is there for us to see if we adopt an open mind to the issues of learning. Perhaps the first glimpses we have seen of LQ in action has been as a result of the changing of the learning environment through technology.  For example the Khan Academy and YouTube have shown that learners can respond successfully to a different learning environment to that of the school. What these new learning environments provide is a better match to the learner’s needs.  We hear also of the “gamification” of learning as we see the effort people are willing to put into these type of environments.  It seems obvious then that if we develop the learner’s ability to manage different learning environments to meet their learning needs by developing their LQ that they will be in better position to reach their potential.

There are numerous benefits to the LQ approach to learning too.

  • We do not have to worry about what new initiatives or ideas that may come along for the learner will be equipped to deal with them.
  • The concept of life-long learning becomes a reality because the learner will be able to cope with any change in learning environment.
  • Teachers are not asked to plan and deliver lessons to accommodate numerous learning styles and can focus on what matters – building relationships and turning knowledge into understanding.
  • Parents can be helped to understand how the environment they create at home also impacts learning.
  • Politicians can relax a little knowing that they have a society of learners that can adapt to changes in the skills, knowledge or understanding required of them during their working life.
  • Employers will get the employees they are looking for.

boy 2

So we have a simpler and better way to approach learning if we want it.

Any takers?

For an introduction to LQ go to:  https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence

To access over 30 articles on LQ explore: www.4c3d.wordpress.com or download the leaflet on  LQ 

Kev Profile Pic

For workshops, keynote speeches or for more about how developing LQ can release the potential of learners you can contact me at info@ace-d.co.uk

Graphic from: http://erdmute.deviantart.com/art/holy-grail-png-100234405



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About 4c3d

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs.

12 responses to “What if there was a simple way of enabling learners to be the best they could be?”

  1. Sue Jones says :

    If you link this Learning Quotient concept to that of “Shift Happens” which highlights the rapid changes in our world, which mean that knowledge based learning becomes outdated almost immediately, and that the work of work becomes project based, responsive and reactive, rather than career based – and THEN add into the challenge for teachers and learners the need to build self- belief, resilience to manage change – character building if you like -then its clear that the business of enabling successful learners ( to also be pro-active participants in life’s journey) does need to start with developing this “capacity to manage the learning environment” – to recognise one’s own potential. If each learning experience related back to these skills, then individuals would be able to drive their own


    • 4c3d says :

      Thank you Sue for underlining the importance of LQ and putting it into the context of today’s learning challenges. I could not agree more, but then I am biased 🙂


  2. Svetlana Kandybovich says :

    I really like your concept of LQ and the idea that we should unify our efforts with learners and enable them to exercise control over their learning. It is the Holy Grail indeed. Surely, it’s not the easiest path, yet nothing worth having comes easily:) I look forward to taking a closer look around your blog.


    • 4c3d says :

      Thank you for the encouragement Svetlana, I appreciate comments and feedback. When I say “easier” I mean it is the one that is within our control as teachers and learners and requires the least in terms of resources or infrastructure changes. It is certainly not the easiest in terms of convincing people. Many work in a high risk education system with control and monitoring that means doing something different (even if right) requires courage.

      There are 35+ articles on the blog relating to LQ and many consider the learner, teacher and parent perspectives. If you have not found the summary info graphic here is the direct link: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Svetlana Kandybovich says :

    Reblogged this on ELT-CATION and commented:
    Should we keep depositing knowledge in learners’ heads hoping that they will use the acquired knowledge one day or give them control over their learning?


    • chrismwparsons says :

      Would you say that we don’t need to teach children the meaning of words if we can teach them to use a dictionary? Without a significant bedrock of foundational knowledge in different subject areas, children will not be able to orientate themselves enough to make use of their LQ. Funnily enough, the vast majority of important knowledge hasn’t changed since we were young. It is ultimately the knowledge in our heads which leads to unexpected insights, and for creative brilliance it is more often than not the far-flung unexpected bits of knowledge which we have which allow the original to come into being. So, yes, give kids all the knowledge you can – it only becomes useful to them once it’s in their brain.


      • 4c3d says :

        Thank you for stopping by and for your question and comments. I appreciate being challenged about my LQ approach to education.
        The dilemma in education is what to teach. There is the “basics” argument but just what the basics are is never clearly defined and I don’t think you will find too many agreements either. The traditionalists will advocate the 3 R’s Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (I never get over the fact that only 1 starts with an “R”!) but not the level, range or context. The other issue is that as we see recognised knowledge both increase in amount and range it’s hard to define limits. We can even begin to find reasons (excuses) when advocating certain subjects or topics to include in a foundation even if they are no longer relevant. A very good example of this is the Sabre Tooth Tiger Curriculum where woolly horse clubbing was still included even though they are extinct. It is easy to fall into the trap that you think everyone is thinking the same as you when you use words like “bedrock of foundation knowledge”, “important knowledge” but just what is it and how do you define it chrismwparsons? I would be interested to hear your definitions.
        Focusing in on your first question a little further. How many words do we need to teach children the meaning of? It is a dilemma that highlights the difficulty of the “knowledge acquisition” approach to education. I know the meaning of far more words than I was formally taught or expected to know at school and yes I was taught to use a dictionary and now use the online version as well as a thesaurus. As my learning environment changes so does my vocabulary, it has to in order to manage it and interact with it. I would also say the vast majority of important knowledge has changed since I was young (then I was young more than 4 decades ago!) Growing up I did not have a mobile phone, they were not invented, and yet knowing what they can do, how to use one and how to navigate the modern world of communication and information and use it to your advantage is important knowledge. You see the problem with needing to be specific in the use of terms.
        The concept that we need to know things in order to be creative is an interesting one, a sort of chicken and egg question. Which comes first the knowledge or the creative ideas? As a teacher of design I know the need to analyse and research before defining a specification. At the start of the process often I do not know all I need to know and my body of “important” or subject specific knowledge may be none existent, but I can find out. As we explore our environment and learn to interact and manage it I would claim we develop our understanding and creativity.
        Finally knowledge is one thing, understanding is another. I wrote about this in the article “Knowing and Learning –What is the Difference?” (http://wp.me/p2LphS-ba) . I claim that i f we develop an understanding then we are more likely to be creative and manage our own learning. Just having knowledge in the brain is okay on quiz nights but unless we can apply what we know to our learning environment then we do not have understanding.


      • chrismwparsons says :

        Hello again – thank you for your careful response (once again!). As you know, I have more appreciation for the nuance of what you are attempting with your work following our dialogue on Tom’s blog.

        Again, I agree with much of what you say – particularly about the difference between understanding and knowledge.

        I suppose the heart of the matter for me (in terms of why I quibble so much about things I suppose) does come down to that interaction between knowledge and creativity:
        You mention the need during design projects for you to go and do research so that you can bring your ideas to life. In other words you need the knowledge to be in your brain before you can creatively interact with it. Fine – the conclusion from this is that, if you want to do something creative in a new area, then go and find out about that area.

        However… Creative ways of looking at things are often creative precisely because we do something that hasn’t been done before… we make links with ideas or concepts or areas which haven’t been put together previously. We see something and thing “Hmm… now that reminds me of…”
        By definition, we cannot predict exactly which bits of knowledge will work together, but we can only make that link if the things are in our head.
        We cannot predict exactly which bits of knowledge we gain at school will be redundant throughout the whole of our lives, and which bits will allow us to make creative jumps which no-one else has seen before. What we can predict however, is that the more areas of knowledge we have, then the more chance we have of that random, brilliant, serendipitous insight (linked to The Matthew Effect).

        Thanks again for the dialogue – I respect you greatly for it, as well as the quality of your thoughts and approach.



      • 4c3d says :

        Research does not necessarily mean or result in gaining knowledge. It could be finding the right person with the right knowledge to advise, collaborate with or guide me or the project. Solving problems, being creative is often a collaborative or team activity. I think this is partially to do with the need for different perspectives (Edward de Bono – thinking hats – even though his idea is that individuals adopt different perspectives and not take a single perspective as part of the team role as in Belbin) and partially to do with the knowledge each person brings to the process. I find I “spark off” others when working in a team and are far more creative. I also think if we are aware enough, in the right state of mind, we can “spark off” our environment. This is either through observation or reflection (Trevor Baylis wind up radio). This is why I think being aware of and being able to manage your learning environment is important.

        Building a knowledge base is, or should be, a life-long activity. The idea that by a certain age we can accumulate (and understand) a pre-defined and agreed amount is a difficult concept to turn into a practical curriculum model. Given the pace of knowledge development we would be re defining that base almost weekly. Then there is the issue of what is knowledge or fact today actually may not be, it may be proven to be “wrong” (the earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth – the list goes on even down to things we were taught in school in the later part of the last century). To even further complicate the knowledge base idea we can add a little religious set of beliefs taught as facts or true knowledge. Finally there is the political manipulation of what should be and should not be taught (the computing curriculum now in our primary schools and the earlier UK National Curriculum developed in the 1980’s). It gets pretty messy.

        I think your final sentence is close to my belief but I think that it is not what we know but it is what we can access and use that makes for a greater chance that we have “that random, brilliant, serendipitous insight”. My own journey with LQ started with an insight and led to reflection and then the development of knowledge and understanding. Which brings me to a final point and that is of communication with others. Certainly a shared knowledge base makes this a lot easier. I had a friend who was an excellent engineer and because we shared the same knowledge base our conversations were often clipped and would appear as if in code to others. For example his motorbike was running rough, he looked at me and said “stoichiometry ratio” and I nodded. To anyone who shared the same knowledge base it was obvious the carbs wanted tuning. To anyone else it was gobbledegook. This may appear to give a great deal of weight to the knowledge base argument but the premise it is flawed. I think the true reason for a desire to build a common knowledge base is the identification of “tribe”, finding and recognising others like ourselves, those that share the same experiences, understanding, beliefs, rituals and sometimes prejudices. We carry such symbols with us throughout life and use them often from the school tie, the manner of dress to accents and mannerisms. We also find reasons to hold on to certain “basics” not for their true value but for this reason of identifying our tribe (see Sabre Tooth Tiger Curriculum).


      • chrismwparsons says :

        Thank you Kevin – more deeply reflective thinking once more. I think your comment about ‘tribe’ is exceptionally important for giving some guidance to what we teach – we need to be able to relate and communicate within our culture (as per Hirsch) – and of course much of this will become separated from its original usefulness.

        I still have a sense however that it can be the most obscure, the most buried away bits of understanding or conceptual patterns, laid down when we were thinking about something that seemed pointless years ago, that can produce the most curious insights, the origins of which we can only describe as ‘innate creativity’. I think you’re probably right though about the need for pure ‘facts’ to be accessible if they are to offer us much insight or ‘tangential purchase’ on a situation.

        I will gladly give feedback on the book 🙂


  4. chrismwparsons says :

    Hello Kevin once more – just to say that I have now purchased your e-book – Understanding Learning Needs, and I look forward to opening myself up fully to the wisdom of your approach. 🙂


    • 4c3d says :

      Thank you Chris. Learning Needs was written I think just over two years ago. I would be pleased to receive your comments as I am in the process of a rewrite. I am happy to send you a copy of the updated version when available as a thank you if you do. I have your e-mail from the download data.


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