Thursday, 28 February 2013

of the ways we learn and know

I've just watched a TED talk by Sugata Mitra in which he talks about SOLE - Self Organised Learning Environments. He presents some very interesting and insightful thoughts on teaching and learning, and pushes the listener with his vision of humanity as having made knowledge obsolete. (I would argue, which I think is perhaps what he might actually be observing, that we have perhaps moved beyond a certain way of knowing and using knowledge, with our advances in technology in particular, but that knowledge is not obsolete, nor its partners wisdom and understanding.)

It got me thinking in various directions.

I read somewhere that in different eras, humans have given authority to different things, and in our era, led by generation Y, we tend to give most authority to experience. In such an era, we are remembering to value intuition* and imagination. This might also explain the resurgence of intentional storytelling (we've always been storytellers, but in recent years we appear to be aware of storytelling again, as a way of sharing our experience and making meaning of it).

Self organised learning environments seem also entirely appropriately to emerge from such an era, valuing, as they do, experience. Teachers are less 'holders of all knowledge to impart unto empty vessels', and more facilitators of experiential exploring, discovering and learning. As guides, teachers create the spaces in which learning may happen, share tools for discerning accurate information, and as Mitra says, ask big questions and celebrate the answers.

Then my wondering wandered in a different direction: if experience holds authority for us, how do our experiences of each other hold possibilities for peace and conflict?
I thought about the experience Western post-Christendom countries like my own have encountered middle-eastern Muslim countries - and the fear that we have learned from our experience of terrorist acts of a minority. It will take great courage to open ourselves up for experiences that teach us something different about our middle-eastern neighbours, I think. Great courage, and deep love that enables us to remember that what we share beyond all our differences is our common humanity.

And I wonder whether storytelling is another facilitator of experiential learning. Storytellers facilitate spaces in which listeners are safe to make themselves vulnerable, to enter the experience of the story, which takes us into the experience of the event and connects that experience to our own lived experiences. And thus, we are able to connect with each other and discover what we hold in common; thus we may discover paths to peace.

Self organised ... a last pondering. 'Self' has a small hint of individualism about it, though in practice the learning environments that emerged from Mitra's experiments, and that are shown in practice around the world as his theory is embodied, are communal, with collaboration between learners themselves and between learners and 'grandmothers' or facilitators. I wonder to what extent a move to experience as the leading authority in our time is also a move towards collaboration, away from individualism, towards community?

And while I'm at it, the rediscovery of intuition (a reliance on inner 'knowing', and itself perhaps individualistic) might be a reawakening of a different kind of spirituality, particularly in the West where Christianity was the dominant narrative, and was itself dominated for so many generations by the Enlightenment's fascination with logic and reason ... especially from my own Protestant tradition, which had become very logo-centric (logo - word, logic, reason), and lost touch with mystery. Intuition might see us reach inward for answers, but it feels (an intuitive kind of knowing, and intuitive knowing is linked with emotional knowing) to me like a simultaneous reaching beyond, a connecting with Spirit, Creation, the Wisdom of all that is and has been.

No, knowledge is not obsolete, but we do need to embrace new and ancient ways of learning, discovering, knowing, in response to the world our knowledge and discoveries has created.

* Research has suggested that intuition is not only involved in decision making, for example, but is as effective as reason and logic (if not more so). (See these articles from various professions if you're interested: psychology, neuro-science, neuroscience, Image Theory, management)

1 comment:

Merenia said...

Thanks for this rich post Rev Sarah. I have followed up re Sugata Mitra, and also like your thoughts on intuitive learning and the scientific articles you link to. Much food for thought - I am an occupational therapist interested in how we live life well. I hope to meet you at Willunga Uniting later in April.