Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

We learn best when we have a genuine need for the knowledge

July 12th, 2013 No comments

If I see someone doing something skilfully, and I ask ‘how did you learn to do that?’ my favourite answer is ‘Oh, I taught myself’.

Often the ‘Oh’ is said with an element of wonder, as though surprised that they ever acquired this skill. Because anyone who answers this way has learnt because they needed to. And self-teaching is the best kind of teaching.

If you have taught yourself how to make a short film, or design a poster, or play a ukelele, or organise a festival, then you started out with an idea for which you had a passion. And then just went ahead and taught yourself what you needed to know.

This is wholly different from being taught a skill for which you do not have a use, an idea for its use. Imagine a ten-year-old who owned a mobile phone but had no need for communication – to learn how it functions would be laborious and not easily remembered. But my ten-year-old daughter, over-excited at the prospect of owning a phone and desperate to text her friends, learns the functions in no time, because she has a real need for them.

This is the difficulty with formal education – we are often taught skills which we have no great desire to use, and so we learn them laboriously. Education should focus more on cultivating our desires than teaching us facts and figures – the opposite of what Michael Gove, the UK Minister for Education plans to do to education. The essence of teaching is to enthuse children (and adults) to the point that they continue the work in their own time, without need of encouragement or expectation of reward.

You may decide to take a course, to train for a particular skill some way into the process of your idea. But more important was that the idea came first, and you then worked out what skills you needed.