“If a flower doesn’t bloom, you change the environment in which it lives, not the flower.” – Alexander Den Heijer
We know that no single learning approach or model works for everyone. No silver bullet fits or meets the needs of each of our uniqueness. This understanding of diversity within the learning process is a unifying concept that, when implemented, can provide learners with a platform for success. If we all need something a little bit different, then through a reductionist view it could be said that we all need essentially the same thing – we need autonomy and support so that we can explore what we as a unique individual need, what we are drawn to, what we connect with, what we aim to pursue, and what we aim to practice.
Therefore, if these aspects of our learning are defined for us and demanded from individuals outside of us, we may miss out on opportunities for cultivating essential learning foundations that are necessary for our current and future growth. If individuals outside of us are constantly the ones to create and define our pursuits/activities/responsibilities, when we finally have the opportunity to decide and choose for ourselves, what will we choose? What will we decide? What we will consider and how will we engage our environment? If we find ourselves in this state of decision-making, and we are unsure of how to answer these questions or we are unwilling to even explore these questions (perhaps because we haven’t had enough opportunities to practice), we may end up relying on our habituations, which may or may not necessarily be a recipe for individual or community expansion. Some of the habits we engage are incredibly serving. Some are less serving. And some are hardly serving, if at all. Platforms upon which to reflect and think critically about these concepts so that we can develop our own understanding can be vital for setting intentions and engaging conscious action – both of which are critical in our pursuit of learning.
Because we can benefit from having opportunities to explore our own choices, as well as receive support in reflecting on our experience, we can build learning environments that foster these practices. We can navigate interactions, materials, and environments built on an approach of supportive exploration, rather than on an approach that tells individuals what to think or what to do. Behavioral compliance of students is the opposite goal of learning because it fails to further ideas; it fails to innovate; it fails to support our unique needs and interests. It is worth noting here that consent is different than compliance. Compliance denotes a sense of passivity or submission, whereas consent represents active participation and engagement. In the learning environment, there can be major value in being able to receive an individual’s consent for being challenged outside of their comfort zone.
As we move through our lives and engage in various learning opportunities, we may experience a plethora of learning processes or approaches. We might be drawn to highly specialized pursuits; we might seek out diverse experiences and content; we might desire explicit direct instruction; we might crave independent exploration. We may ebb and flow between any and all of these methods, and they may change hourly, daily, monthly, etc.
If we look at this in the context of primary and secondary learning, we see that learning thrives with the collaboration of three integral individuals/groups: the learner, the facilitators, and the family. Visually, we can represent these three individuals/groups and their relationship within the learning process like so:
The learner is at the top of the triangle. They drive the learning process. They are the biggest influencer of pace, content, interaction, etc. Serving as the base, supporting the learner, is the family and the facilitators. These individuals serve as entities that support the learning process that is directed by the learner. They provide opportunity; they provide support; they provide challenge (when and were it is sustainable); they offer exposure to new material and ideas; they facilitate dialogue that aims to support intention setting, reflection, and critical thinking; they help cultivate relationships that promote collaboration and active engagement in one’s own life.
One can imagine turning this triangle so that either the family or the facilitators sit at the top, instead of the learner. Taking this view, how might this change the learning experience for the learner? How might this change the way in which the learning environment functions?
If our intention in education is to support the whole-person growth of learners, what better way than to allow the learner to drive the process?
– Zach Morris