Why School Ruined Learning For Me

“The only thing the interferes with my learning is my education.” -Albert Einstein

We spend a lot of time in school when we’re young. It’s where we learn how to learn, or at least that’s the idea. We walk into classrooms, sit in desks facing the front of the room, and we listen to people talk at us. Oh sure we have the occasional and obligatory “group project”, but learning in school mostly involves listening and route learning. Information in, information out. The more information you retain, as measured by testing, the more you have “learned”. I suppose on some level this is necessary. There is value to having needed information, and this form of “learning” is much easier to measure (which drives more decisions than it should). I do think that this entire concept has ruined learning for many of us. Though knowledge acquisition is an important part of learning, I think we do an incredible disservice by promoting the idea that acquiring knowledge itself is actually learning.

Learning is defined in popular circles as a systematic study or process of acquiring a skill, but the psychology community treats it a bit different. In the psych community, learning is the modification of behavior. This modification happens through practice, training, development, and experience. Though there are five primary schools of thought around adult learning these days, they all have action and application in common. Research has shown that even mentally thinking through application can increase true learning. Even if we can’t actually do, just thinking about doing will increase our retention and future ability to execute. For example, musicians have effectively practiced by sitting in front of a piece of music and just reading it, visualizing themselves playing the notes and rhythms. Athletes have effectively increased ability by visualizing themselves taking action. Thinking through how a particular play or move will work. The point of all of this is simply:

Learning is not about knowledge retention. Learning is about application and behavior modification.

That’s what we want in the end as organizational leaders, isn’t it? Life change. Behavior change. I mean, the point of all this learning is different RESULTS. How is learning working around your organization? Is it providing different results, or just increasing knowledge? Is the learning around your organization action oriented? Is actively promoting implementation and practice? On some level, our elementary school has ruined our concept of learning by making it just about knowledge retention. Learning is about conversation, implementation, and application. How does your learning program stack up?

“The ultimate goal of learning is bring about behavior.” – B.F. Skinner

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