How do you know you know something? How do you know you’re learning?
I spent a couple of days last week on the first two teaching days of an academic course. The topic in question is a fluffy subject for magpie minds – the tutor even used the word “eclectic”.
We spent the tutorial days chatting. The tutor had a dozen or so slides and if he hadn’t had those then it would have felt like we were just hanging out, sharing tales from our various pasts and blethering. It was a pleasant way to spend two days, but it didn’t feel structured or disciplined and so I didn’t feel like I was being taught stuff and therefore I didn’t feel that I learning.
I had the same experience years ago when I spent enough to buy a newish small car on NLP training, but couldn’t tell if I’d got anything out of it. I challenged the tutor then saying “this is interesting and it’s cool, but what exactly are you teaching me and what am I learning?” He said that different people know they know things in different ways and observed that I need to be able to relay something in a structured way in order to know that I know it. He also said that they’d taken a decision to teach in a way that suited the majority of people who could learn without the need to evaluate their learning. Or something. To this day I don’t know if he was bullshitting on the fly or if I really am that anomalous.
In the old days of surgery the method was watch one, do one, teach one. Teaching something fulfills my need to be able to relay it in a structured way. I guess the nearest I’m getting to that in my studies is the discipline of writing an essay on the subject which is transparent enough to explain its own subject-matter to an intelligent lay-person.
I decided to trust the tutor last week. He’s been teaching his subject at various universities for years, with a lifetime of training before then. There were only four of us, all with a couple of decades of working life behind us and all well on the way through our studies. The experience with the NLP training is a reasonably successful precedent. And most recently I’ve discovered that when I am teaching, I watch people to see if they understand the concepts rather than banging on and on until they and I am bored. I don’t care whether or not they have an “ah hah” moment of epiphany when they realise they get it, so long as they get it. I do spell it out when I’m asked to, but that’s because leaving people floundering is cruel.
So I decided that last weekend I’d go with the flow rather than floundering, but I’ll only find out what I learned when it comes to writing the assignment. It’s flattering to be trusted to pick the bones out of our chattering, but it’s also rather scary if the truth be told.