Part 1: The one and only learning theory that counts is …


How we see ourselves as a learner has a significant impact on the “what” and the “how” when we are in a learning mode. But how accurate are our self-perceptions when it comes to learning and how do we build them?

In part one I will suggest that our self-perceptions as a learner are formed as a result of the idea that there is one way we all learn.  In further parts  I will describe the impact of this notion on learners as well s explore the impact on the learning environment as we try to find the one way to teach and to learn.

Unfortunately as we experience school we are not encouraged to develop our view of ourselves as learners. We are given labels and expected to live up or down to them. This all stems from one false “truth”. Let’s explore this “truth”.

Education theory has a demon it cannot shake off and the outcome of this is that we are constantly being directed towards a “better way”.  We seek to find a better way to learn, a better way to teach and a better structure on which to base our education system. This emphasis on the “better way” suggests there is one, and only one, way. This is why we see theories come into fashion and then go out again only to be re-discovered when the latest one has failed to “do it for everyone”. Those with influence on policy and practice also carry with them their favourite which they are reluctant to accept may not suit everyone.  In the UK we have seen, and continue to see, education formed in the image of some individual or persuasive group who believe their way is the right way.

The real truth is that there is no one way. No one way at any moment in the challenge of learning. No one way to teach. No one design on which to build an education system that will meet the needs of everyone. This is hard to accept. Even harder to consider when you want to standardise things. Impossible if you want to monitor or predict outcomes.

The sad thing is that so long as we look for one way to learn, to teach and structure education we fail to see the benefits of those ways that work for some of us, some of the time. It’s like holding a bunch of keys and trying them, one at a time, in a lock that does not have a single key to open it. We pick up a key, try it and then throw it to the floor and try another. When we run out of keys we pick them up off the floor and continue to try them one at a time again.  When you have more than one person jostling to try their key in the lock then we see the real dangers of this approach. Power and influence are brought to bear to get to the front. Any other key holder is attacked in order to diminish their chance of trying their key in the lock. They would be just getting in the way anyway and delaying us opening the door to the “better way” wouldn’t they!

See this site for a list of learning theories. Then ask yourself how many are still “popular”, how many have been “attacked” and why some still have supporters despite being attacked.

There are no one set of circumstances, no single way to teach, no one system of education that will produce a “better way”.  The way that counts is the way that works for you.

To discover what works best for you requires you to be allowed to explore learning and evaluate the “how” for yourself.  You need to be exposed to different learning strategies and shown that what we see or regard as “ability” may be influenced by more than one thing.  We need to avoid labels.

Warning – this may produce “challenging behaviours” in a system that believes in and promotes “one way”.

What I am proposing is not revolutionary in terms of new theories but it is in terms of approaches to learning. Well it appears to be to me and I have been in the education profession for nearly four decades! The fact that we have not yet changed our approach to education that we persist along the “one way” path suggests one of two things.  Firstly there is a vested interest in this process that it serves some purpose we have yet to discover. Secondly our egos are bigger than our view of education.  If there is a third reason then please let me know.

multiple padlocked-gate

What I am proposing is based on the idea that there is no “one way”, no “best way” to learn, that the lock on the door of learning needs multiple keys to open it. It may even be that the lock changes from time to time too making it necessary to look for a different combination of keys. This is the concept that sits behind my idea of “Learning Intelligence”, or “LQ” for short.

More about LQ in part two.

Part 2


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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.

4 responses to “Part 1: The one and only learning theory that counts is …”

  1. filledwithdesire says :

    Amen to that. Not to mention being beaten over the head (as a teacher) when it doesn’t suit the person observing! Subjectivity doesn’t make one person more “right” than another. We seem to lose sight of what’s important…. Results right???


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