Advancing the Theory and Practice of Self-Determined Learning
In early January I attended a fly fishing school in Tasmania, an island State off the bottom end of Australia. More specifically, the lessons were held at Bronte Lagoon in the Great Lakes area, relatively remote with none of the trappings of 21st century living anywhere nearby. Lovely.
The school was held by the Devonport fly fishing club and many experienced members were there to give their expertise, for free, on the art of catching trout using flies. The camaraderie was wonderful and the teachers were always on hand to answer questions and improve our skills with an enthusiasm that was heart warming. When temperatures dropped to about 5 degrees centigrade at night anything that was might be warming seemed to be a good idea.
One evening a session on tying flies was held after tea in the main tent. About five of us were intently watching the instructor. Three young lads up to the age of 12 were with their father a couple of tables over tying flies on their own equipment. Later in the evening an older member of the club joined us. He’s probably in his eighties and had a huge collection of flies that he had created. Clearly experienced and a lovely guy.
Wanting to help, the older man called the 12-year old over and started to show him how to tie a simple fly. He invited the boy to take over, which he did and the old man watched him carefully giving advice along the way.
When the ‘student’ was finishing the fly, one of the other instructors brought over a box of flies to show the older man. He was very impressed and commented on the quality of the workmanship and the sheer volume of the work. It turned out that the young boy had tied these flies. Not only that but he pulled a card out of his pocket and gave one to his ‘teacher’. He had been making flies and selling them on the internet for about a year or so. His business was flourishing his father told us with a wry smile.
So, know your learner before you jump in. My approach in designing learning experiences is to frame a question like, ‘What are your greatest challenges/issues/questions about (Topic)?’. Then let people write stuff down and tell their story. Learning can then start at that point when you know what expertise people have, their passions, their questions and dilemmas. Learner-centred learning, with one eye on the curriculum of course.
How richer could this interaction have been between the old man and the young boy had they been able to establish the learning need. Each would have learned from the other and, certainly, the old man could have passed on more sophisticated understanding and skill that the young boy had yet to master.