Blog > Flipping learning

November 3, 2012

There’s lots happening right now. I’ve been travelling in Kenya, immersed in nature and different cultures, I’m visiting with my friend Johnnie and I’m about to embark on facilitating a 10-day training where there will be a huge emphasis on content. Oh, and I’m also taking part in a Stanford University MOOC (massive open on-line course) on new learning environments.

There’s a strong link with all these activities and it has to do with learning and tipping what we know about learning on its head.

I had a conversation with my sister-in-law while travelling in the Masai Mara about learning. She’d been a school teacher for decades. My experience has always been that when I’m learning about something new, and when introducing new ideas or approaches in a group, that doing matters. Do something first, then get some theory, then do some more to reinforce. As we were leaving Kenya, Sue said she’d come to understand what I meant. Before the trip – her first to any African country – she’d read a bit about the people, places and culture, and now, having experienced it she was keen to read and learn lots more. There’s some experience and context for her to make sense of.

I see this content is king approach everywhere, and Johnnie has written eloquently about it here. There’s an assumption that good content is central to learning. I propose that relational learning enables people to find and assess content for themselves. What I mean by relational learning is learning with other people – building trusting relationships to enable exploration without the fear of failure or of looking foolish or of being dismissed; where ideas can be raised, tried and discarded rapidly.

We need to turn learning on its head. To unlearn approaches that no longer serve us, such as bringing people together and sitting them down in front of an expert. Some teachers and universities are already doing this, providing lectures on line and when students meet in the classroom using that time to work together.

Johnnie and I have developed over the years a way of doing this in workshops. For the moment we’re calling it problem theatre. No matter what the purpose or focus of the training is, we always have the question about difficult people. An abstract, theoretical response from us might make us feel good but rarely helps the person asking the question. When they are next faced with a difficult person, they have to draw on what we said, which by then is no doubt forgotten.

So we get people rapid prototyping new behaviours. Rapid prototyping has become the way for design thinkers to try out their ideas and quickly improve on them. Same can be true of behaviours.

Abstract, theoretical comments such as What would you do when…? How do you react to…? How do I deal with…? are cues for us to leap headlong into problem theatre, engaging participants with trying out new behaviour for themselves, feeling it in their bodies and learning from that direct, rapid experimentation. Any suggestions from the floor like Why not try…? are an invitation to do just that, come up and try, rather than talk about it. Guess what? When the next difficult situation arises in real life, these participants don’t have to wonder what to do – they have already tried stuff out and are much better placed to respond quickly and intuitively.


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