Relationships in Learning
Photo: It is important to recognize that “liking” and the ability to see connections and possibilities is key to learning
If you think back to those classes or courses you loved the most during your education I think you will find that what made the course so compelling was the relationship you developed. It could be a relationship with the teacher. “I loved Mrs. Cannon; she was the best teacher, she was fun and fair and hard but she helped me so much.” Or, you may have loved the topic and content so the teacher didn’t really matter. “I want to learn enough French so I can be talk to people from France and maybe visit there.” Learning happens in relationships with either people or content. So it is important to recognize that “liking” and the ability to see connections and possibilities is key to learning for the long haul.
Clearly you can be terrorized into learning. Fear of being embarrassed in front of others; fear of being held back in some way; or even fear of some change in your public image. But learning through fear is short term learning. It is the kind of thing you remember for the test but forget as soon as the grade or presentation is over. This learning is often characterized by how quickly it is forgotten and how little you can actually say about the topic after the event.
Deeper learning, the kind that comes through relationship, is characterized by a strong enough understanding that you can ask questions, even if you can’t answer them immediately. This learning can be applied and used in multiple contexts, not just the original way you learned it. Deep learning is not easier, in fact it is harder because it requires a more thorough understanding of the elements of the topic, but it sticks with us for the long term because we have grappled with it. We worked to learn more of the background and underpinnings and can see the applications. And, if the topic was not so compelling that we wanted to do this on our own, we had a teacher who made it so.
While it would be wonderful to think that every teacher is able to engage us personally with the topic, we teachers are just not that magical, although we try. And for most of us not every topic speaks to us enough to make our hearts sing and cause us to go the extra mile to learn something so thoroughly on our own. But given this harsh reality it doesn’t mean we don’t try – as teachers and as learners. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and imagine that the teacher and the topic are speaking just to us. And as teachers let’s imagine that the future of the world depends on the relationships we develop with our students.