Roger Schank is my kind of guy. We both champion experiential learning and the importance of conversation. His writing is exciting.
The way people have learned throughout history is from each other and they learn from each other by talking and by asking and by getting good advice. Roger Schank
Throughout human history we have learned by watching someone older than ourselves, trying to copy that person, trying to be part of the team, and then trying things for yourself, and asking for help when we have failed. It is not that complicated. This is what learning has always looked like.
When you need to try to accomplish something that you want to accomplish, you need to have someone who knows how to do those things watch over you and you need to have someone whose work you can observe and copy. You need to be able to try and fail and you need to be able to practice.
We do learn by talking. Assuming we are talking with someone who is more or less our equal and has ideas not identical to ours, we learn by challenging them and ourselves to think hard. We mull ideas. We try out ideas.
Teaching students how to move people to their point of view is a very important thing to do. Challenging students to try to persuade fellow students, by debating in public for example, is a very useful thing to do in education. It is useful because constructing and backing up arguments and causes you to think hard. The more you have to think hard the better you get at it.
So, I have a simple suggestion for school. Teachers should stop having persuasion conversations all together (where they are the persuader) and help students learn to persuade each other better. Students learning to persuade is a very valuable educational goal. We need to make that part of any school we create.
Learning is profoundly misunderstood by the school system. People learn all the time, typically when they are trying to accomplish something and are having some trouble getting what or where they want.
They may have to ask for help. That’s learning.
They may have to think hard about what is going wrong. That’s learning.
They may have to recall some prior similar experience and figure out its relevance to the current situation. That’s learning too.
In real life learning we learn how to do things, usually things we will need to do again. We are not attempting to retain information, although that may happen, we are simply trying to attain new skill like driving a car, or selling, or drawing up plans, or designing a house, or programming a computer. Schools don’t usually teach useful skills until graduate school, although they may not teach them then either.
Learning happens when we try something, practice something, make something, use something, respond to something, change something, fail at something.
But how does learning take place actually? What is the medium of learning?
The answer is very simple indeed. We learn through conversation.
Conversation helps us think through what we have experienced, even if it’s the experience of reading a book or watching a movie. Put another way, the only lasting benefit we receive from reading and listening or watching (aside from the entertainment value, of course) happens because of the conversations that we have about our reading or viewing experience. The learning – the changed perspective, the improved ability, the new idea – if it happens at all, happens when we are in the conversation.
Learning depends upon conversation. Learning isfundamentally a conversation.