Learning Out Loud
On Friday 18th October I presented a talk and performance entitled ‘Learning Out Loud’ as my inaugural professorial lecture, which launched the 2019-20 Public Lecture series at the University of Chichester. I was grateful that my department allowed me to use a couple of cameras to capture the event – they were set running before it kicked off and it looks like (unfortunately) someone bumped the side-view camera, and the lighting was particularly dim, but you can hear it all and the tech people helped to a great job of splicing the video feeds together for me. Thank you to them!
What you cannot see in the video is the display that was along both sides of the walls, showing the documentation of my practice, with over 44,000 words, 115+ videos, audio files, and plenty of images. (for an example of one of the days see HERE) I have been asked to display these for online viewing and I will, but it will take time. (I plan to make a subdomain with the project on it) People were invited to peruse the 128 days of ups and downs, chipping away at learning, and working through the seasons and other life responsibilities as I prepared for this event.
Below you will find:
- The printed programme
- The video
- Timings for the video
- The full transcript of the talk (with some images along the margins – so do look!)
References (as shown on the pdf of the programme):
‘Learning Out Loud’ (beginning-5:37 Laura: 5:38-39:04)
Sonata for Solo Cello, op.8 Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
- Allegro maestoso ma appassionato (starts 40:00)
- Adagio (con grand expression) (starts 48:39)
- Allegro molto vivace (starts 1:00:26)
This evening I take you on a journey, demonstrating our awareness of experiences, the things we do, and how they impact us- noticing and questioning some of the societal assumptions and constraints around us, and then considering our role, mine and yours – and how we each learn and shape our experiences – personally, as peers and teachers, and within the frameworks of our social and institutional networks.
Then we have a brief pause where I go find my cello and in the second half, I play to you – then it’s my turn to deliver an experience and I’m going to take you for a ride as I play the Kodaly Sonata.
Let’s start with looking at learning from a different perspective:
In one of my lectures, some time ago- it was 13 years ago in January and the winter sun streaming in through the big glass windows as I leaned against a table behind me.
I asked the class to consider knowing me only by my shadow. I cast a rather oddly shaped and large shadow that did resemble me, but only one aspect of me. It was a few weeks before my 3rd child was born and that winter sun gave a wonderful silhouette of me, and it was the perfect setting to demonstrate a limited sort of learning.
Learning from a shadow, we can know some things, but everything is second hand, and really to know much of anything that way we rely on the clarity and imagination of the teller to give a full picture of what there is. The analogy was chosen with music learning in mind- as it is particularly difficult for someone who is just beginning to learn an instrument to have any clue what they are supposed to be aiming for. I only really know what I experience myself. If someone has never heard the sound of a cello or trombone or clarinet, it is not something people can ‘imagine’ and their sound a s beginner is not going to be the sound they are aiming for. They will rely on the teacher or a recording, and that sound is made by someone else – it is a second hand experience, like a shadow.
I was telling them the story from Plato’s Allegory of the cave, from Book VII of The Republic (380BC).
Indirect seeing is second-best.
If I see directly this is also good, but it is not necessarily enough by itself.
I need to understand. To know.
So how do we do learning? How do we learn learning? What do we do with learning? So many questions! Where do we start?
Cello demo about recreating – repeating. It takes us through the door and is useful as a gateway. Maria (our learner) can now say, I did (cello Twinkle), and as a result:
‘I can’ can be difficult to see before you experience it, and then it may still be difficult to admit. Before an experience there may be a lot of fear. Uncertainty. Unknown.
The self-belief that says ‘Yes I can’ is at the heart of the psychological construct self-efficacy; it is the conviction in your capabilities to do a particular thing. Self-efficacy beliefs can be different for all sorts of tasks – I’m far more confident of my capabilities to play the cello than I am of my swimming, for example, and dancing – well I’d like to, and I think I can, but I haven’t learned the skills to believe I could do it now. The self-efficacy judgements we make about carrying out tasks involve us understanding the requisite skills and being confident in our capabilities to deliver.
Now is where learning and teaching come in: Explaining, establishing paths for gaining the skills, and achieving success are all integral to promoting a cycle of
belief, motivation, achievement, recognition, and value, – which goes round to further develop beliefs
– it’s a ‘good thing’ and it makes a loop of reinforcement- a good thing loop. 🙂
As far as achievement, goals are important, but they have to be balanced. First we need to recognise.
- Recognition: Of Where I Have Come From Where?
- Recognition: Of Where I Am.
“what we perceive as the present is the vivid fringe of memory tinged with anticipation.”
In learning and doing there is a sense of motion, of moving forward. The anticipation is the can – capabilities for what you can do now, an imminent delivery of skills, but they can also be about future development.
However, always looking ahead prevents us from that second bit of recognition awareness of where you are. It is tempting to say – I’m getting there….
Well, I am no more ‘there’ now than I ever will be, instead I am here. Right here, in a perpetual state of movement and change, and being exactly here. The important thing about being here is that I know my capabilities. I know them and I believe in them.
I can learn. I can do. My belief in my capabilities for can, learn, and do underpin everything: Goals, actions, resilience, achievement, persistence, satisfaction, and value.
There are theories by academics, psychological frameworks, physical neurological understandings of how one learns- our mechanisms and processes. The understanding of learning and experience has deepened over time with a growing global network of communication and technology.
We now know that learning comes from within. We’ve seen the pendulum swing from internal, to external, back to recognising that internal mechanisms of cognition, belief, and personal agency are important- This is not new. For example, Socrates speaks in Euthydemus of the need for individuals to learn when he says:
since knowledge is what provides this goodness of use and also good fortune, every man must, as seems plausible, prepare himself by every means for this: to be as wise as possible. (281e2-282a7)
In our own lifetimes we feel the remnants of an antiseptic view of learning as something that is mass produced and can just be poured into people’s heads through rote dictation and regurgitative testing. Fortunately that tide has receded and we know and understand that people learn for themselves.
Institutional learning – I’m speaking in general about all levels of ‘school’ form primary through to many universities – tends to have a personalized approach. Text books geared for the learner, curriculum for classes, but that isn’t really personal learning. (unless you have a clever teacher who encourages and allows for individual differences)
Learning is individual; It isn’t something you can do to someone or even plan like a recipe to work for everyone. The way one person learns the cello is going to be different to another. No two of us are the same – how could our learning be reduced to something that is a single, centrally produced manual. At the root of it, you and I decide to learn for ourselves, and we choose the course of action we take, how we find information, who we reach out to, how we connect, how committed we are, how strong is our sense of self, how resilient we will be.
All of that is individual.
It is possible to be taught, to experience and not to learn. Take our cello example. Twinkle Twinkle was lovely, but was that really learning? We can be led through the motions to copy and reproduce something, but without our own engagement and appropriate time and mechanisms to facilitate and allow our understanding, it can be like a meeting – where you can say you ‘met’ someone, but actually you simply bumped shoulders in passing. – It is a meeting of sorts, but not a meeting of minds. not learning.
We can experience and not learn for any number of reasons. – learner, teacher, situational constraints. Lots of possible unknowns.
Still, that’s not to say that experiences (even those we don’t think we learn from) do not impact us. Everything does in some way. Stephen Downes asked ‘Does an island remember you when you walk on it?’ in response to a recent neuroscience article about new understandings of how a transcription factor in the brain impacts the development of memory. The article questions the understanding of memory and this response with a rather concrete theoretical question made me think- yes, we leave a mark, every thing we do impacts this planet, and every thing we do impacts us. Much like the butterfly effect, a small ripple here may cause waves later in the timeline of our lives. Even when someone does not understand or seem to learn now, it does not mean their experience is in vain.
As learners and educators we can take an active role in shaping how experiences feed our learning: That island or woodland will sooner remember your footprints if you make a path, and it will remember you yet differently if your path creates a route for rainwater to run and make a dew pond.
Making those footprints- our awareness of process enables growth and transfer.
This is true for the early stages of learning, but also at university level and in life – for all of us – you and me. Me as professor, me as mother, me as girl down the road learning stuff. I’m just like you, and you are just like me. We are each on a path and there is not really a better than or further than. We are each the first person to live our unique lives, and nobody can make progress for us but us.
In learning, we can take elements from one experience and transfer them to another. It doesn’t have to be the same situation, yet it can inform and have meaning for other areas of our lives.
What about teaching?
We think of teaching as sharing knowledge, but sometimes understanding can be hidden. There is a wonderful example. A video of an experiment exploring how non-gamers learn to play video games shared by Dr Alec Cuoros.
The husband is a gamer, the wife is not, and he does an experiment to see how she learns. He gives her the tools, but not the understanding needed to best navigate the tasks. What he discovers is there are some elements to the process that are quite straightforward, and others are not at all explained, and others are anything but intuitive, and without guidance the ‘learner’ can take long and complicated routes to do something that could be simple – if only they knew about it first.
Learning is like that in many contexts.
Noticing, recognising, understanding can be tricky. Learning to learn is a skill and it isn’t something we are often taught. Here at university students are expected to move to a path of autonomous learning as they progress through their degrees. The problem is that throughout learning, and even at this level, it is so much easier to direct what to do rather than explain how an individual can approach something for themselves.
I propose we need dialogue.
There is importance, value to learning out loud.
Learning out loud means an active awareness of the process as it is happening.
People are reticent to do this and their hesitation has to do with what society (and school) teach us – about what we share, how we communicate, and a basic understanding of external and internal. Society teaches us to gather, protect, and build walls. There are already enough walls in this world. We are used to covering ourselves with external symbols and things, and not often are we encouraged or allowed to focus on the processes at the core of what we are doing – these things take longer to understand partly because they are not things at all. Are we encouraged to share these processes?
When we learn – and I don’t mean pop a fact into our heads, I mean learning as knowing, in terms of assimilating into our practice. – This application, learning in action through experiences involve trust. It involves an openness to becoming comfortable with our capabilities, with our achievements, and moving from known into unknown.
In the interview on ‘examining life’ from 2010, Judith Butler presents a ‘challenge to individualism’ where we ask ourselves whether we live in a world where we need each other, where we are there, willing to help one another, to address our basic needs. (see link in programme)
We are not used to feeling or necessarily seeing ourselves in those terms. I think we need to. It is part of the lived experience of learning.
The idea of believing in yourself does not mean you will do everything. Yes, I can is an important starting point. It is not an ultimatum, but allows for possibility.
Self-efficacy (the belief) + Agency (the gumption to do)
I propose the institution (university) is the mechanism/framework
If institutional settings are to move from personalised approaches to adopting personal learning, this will by necessity be unique for each learner. In order to maintain coherence and work toward a collaborative ethos or theme, there needs to be a sharing approach.
- sharing outward and the feedBACK
- the role of the institution is to facilitate a forum for learning our loud.
- Personal learning + learning out loud (facilitated / guided by a teaching/learning mentor (used to be called a teacher)) = what is learned and developed within the umbrella of an institution.
I believe I can. I believe you can.
This evening I show you my practice of practise. All around the room you have 128 days of preparation for this- all the practice, documentation, good bits, struggles, daily growth. It’s all posted in a community called Yapnet, where creative practitioners can learn out loud, gain feedback on work in progress – and be seen. The kind of continual work involved in practising is lonely, hard to sustain, and certainly different to being in an office surrounded by people while you do your own thing. I have found this community environment a lifeline as well as an inspiration. Beside what you see here, there were some 50 or 60 comments from others along the way –they remain on the Yapnet site. I share my process with you because I genuinely believe that we need to open our practice. We need to learn out loud, and to support one another.
Now almost on to the cello. First a quote as to why we sometimes must go beyond words and why this second half requires no words.
From Plato’s 7th Letter:
Further, on account of the weakness of language, these (i.e., the four) attempt to show what each thing is like, not less than what each thing is. For this reason no man of intelligence will venture to express his philosophical views in language, especially not in language that is unchangeable, which is true of that which is set down in written characters.
This music is beyond words. My learning is more than words. When we teach, we use more than words, text, gesture – we hope to open doors in people’s minds.
Doors open and close. Sometimes people will stand in your way- and sometimes we brush shoulders as we walk past them.
Self-efficacy + Agency = Change.
Remember only you can learn for yourself.