How Do We Learn?


Yeah… How DO we learn. There are all sorts of talks about Learning Styles and Modes of Learning. But in the end, some sort of “philosophy” or training should be better for nurturing change in a trainee. Our Counseling Center provides Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and that has gotten me reflecting on how we learn, how we grow, and how we change. Sadly, I have never taken a course in Education Psychology. But I have had enough training, experience, reflection, and eduction (Yes… “Eduction,” NOT “Education”) to have a few thoughts.

Learning Diamond

Think of this Diamond Diagram above as the interaction of two cycles.

Cycle 1 is the Action-Reflection Cycle. It is also the Praxis Model of Theological Contextualization or Development. It is further the process of Pastoral Theology. rutted-road

We like to say that experience is the best teacher. That may be true, but we are not always the best learners. Often, we act without reflection, falling into the same decisions and actions like a vehicle may get stuck in the deep ruts of an old dirt road. With and after action should be thoughtful reflection. This should be done personally, meditatively, and intentionally. However, it is also aided by being doing with peers and mentor. However, this reflective activity should then guide action. The process is cyclic or, better, helical, as one learns and changes over time.

Cycle 2 is the Didactic-Eductive Cycle. The term “Didactic” has many meanings and eod0hnuances. However, it generally involves teaching via imparting knowledge to the trainee from the instructor. The term Eductive, or Eduction is a term promoted by Seward Hiltner. In my Navy days we used eductor pumps to get water out of flooded areas of the ship. The eductor pump has no moving parts and utilizes no electricity, flame, or fuel (at least directly). Water is sent through a firehose at high speed and through the “pump” that is settled in the flooded area. The low pressure, utilizing Bernoulli’s Principle and proper nozzle design, causes water to be sucked into that stream and out of the space.  Eduction then is to draw out. We already know a great deal of things… but that knowledge must be drawn out of us. Eductive learning is common in Rogerian, “client-centered,” counseling, as well as Pastoral counseling. At the same time, one cannot draw out what isn’t there in the first place. Therefore, some input, didactic training is needed as well. However, people commonly don’t change by simply given outside information. Truth needs to also come from inside to be valued and utilized. Ideally, a cycle of input and drawing out can lead to growth and change.

Bringing these two cycles together is especially valuable, and both can lead to consider change and growth. CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) seeks to bring these two cycles together. Good mentoring should as well. The LePSAS method of training (Utilized by Community Health Evangelism/Education (CHE)) also seeks to bring the two cycles together.

In ministry and missions, we seek growth and positive change… so bringing these two cycles together should be valuable to all of us. That means:

  • Trainees (disciples) should be involved in ministry/activities. Don’t fall into the trap of “train them now to minister later.” Training is best done in concert with action.
  • Trainees should not just be doers. The action needs time for reflection, incorporation, and change. Of course to do this means to allow the trainees to diverge from established activity patterns. Reflection that cannot be acted upon is demotivating.
  • Trainees need to be taught. “Throw the child in the water to see if he will sink or swim” may work for some. I have heard on the Internet how an eagle will push its young out of the nest when it is time for it to fly. But that story is false– and appears to express more about the instructor than about what works. Most people need some guidance… some instruction.
  • Trainees need to be helped to learn what they already know. Education should not be paternalistic— assuming that the trainer has all knowledge, and the trainee has only ignorance and misinformation. The trainees are full of valuable trainings, experiences, and reflections that are not synthesized/integrated. In some cases they are nearly forgotten. The trainer can help them draw these out and get them integrated with action, reflection, and new learning.

 

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