Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Learning should be about "the experience"

We've all been there.  That moment you are reading a book and nearly half way into it, you come across an epiphany, that makes enduring the rest of the pages that got you there, all that worthwhile. That moment when an invisible person sitting next to you taps you (lightly) on the head with a ball peen hammer.

I've been reading Tim Brown's Change by Design on and off the past several weeks, something I do because I find it much more interesting and useful to read several similar books and magazine articles simultaneously, rather than drive ahead from start to finish in just one. I had just finished a short run and shower before sitting down on a beautiful afternoon in our sunroom, picking up the book where I left off at the start of chapter five (returning to the surface of the design experience).

Tim starts it out by describing his personal experience flying back and forth from San Francisco to New York, noting that the experience was once quite miserable until United Airlines came up with "premium service" focused on the business customer. He describes a number of amenities but the one that sticks out most for him was the increased leg room that lent itself to a more positive social experience during the boarding process. For Tim, this "set my expectations for the remainder of the flight." (p. 110)  He describes the net effect as one that "reinforced the sense of excitement and anticipation" he felt about traveling, connecting flying to his emotions, not just his schedule or the need for transportation.

Few of us that fly these days have that same experience since we don't fly business class or pay for premier service, but the point is that experience in any type of service may be just as important -- or even more important -- to the user than the structure, function or results.

This same mindfulness -- experience -- should be our focus as we transform an outdated K-12 (K-16?) educational system by throwing off the old structures, functions and over-bearing testing mentality, and in their place creating new (not improved or renewed) systems of teaching and learning where the primary emphasis is on the experience. This accounts not only for the experience of the learner, but also the teacher, family and community.

If you think about it for long, it only makes sense. Few former students (if any) can rattle off what they learned when they attended school, but many (if not most) will provide you with a litany of memorable experiences they had whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or anywhere else connected to school. The experience is the connection to our social and emotional selves that make learning "meaningful and memorable."

That is why award-winning documentaries such as Ted Dintersmith's Most Likely to Succeed  highlight learning environments where students are physically as well as mentally engaged and where they own at least a portion of the learning with experiences they believe are relevant and will help them achieve their life dreams. All throughout the film, the discussions and activities are centered on experience, while more traditional structures found in the typical school house are moved to the side.

It's not to say that schools and classrooms should be chaos, although the right kind of chaos might be just what's needed if its purpose is to enhance the teaching and learning experience. Well-designed experiences that in the end produce the results our students and their parents want from our schools may just finally move our schools into the 21st century.