Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

18 Sep 2021, 1:10 a.m.

It Can Be Hard To Talk About Learning And Teaching

Copied from a comment I made on MetaFilter in a somewhat contentious thread about explicitly learning and teaching tacit knowledge:

Some fundamental assumptions I have about this topic, and about some opportunities and difficulties more generally when talking about learning and teaching:

It can be hard to accurately remember the experience of not having a skill once you have advanced sufficiently in it (this is per the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition) - not just that you once were a novice, but what your mental models were, what perceptual gaps you have since fixed, and other details.

Different people, learning different topics in different environments with different motivations, resources, different configurations of interpersonal support, different levels of time commitment available, at different underlying levels of maturity and self-efficacy/locus of control and and metacognition and skill in related domains and so on, will have different experiences of the process of learning (some will not even notice that we are learning at all!) and different memories/assessments of what worked. In some cases this will reflect genuinely different learning/teaching approaches; in some cases people will use different words to describe the same experience, or will have divergent conscious memories of the same basic experience.

Different people also TEACH in very different contexts; me coaching a friend through how to break down an overwhelming task list via videocall is different from a chess teacher demonstrating things on YouTube, or a Public Service Announcement on the radio about how to notice if someone's having a stroke, or a mentor letting their mentee shadow them at work for a day, or me blogging about how to use a particular PyPI feature, or a volunteer language tutor meeting a 5th grader once a week in a noisy afterschool room. And, again, different teachers will have different memories of what worked, as in the previous point.

Curiosity and the desire for competence and mastery exist in lots of domains - in institutional settings like school and work, but also in hobbies, sex, relationship skills, domestic skills such as cooking and repair, self-improvement, art, etc.

Researchers have learned some things about how learning works, and it is possible to read that research, or practitioner-aimed summaries of it, to learn ideas that can help us learn - and teach each other - better.

Some human cultures valorize learning/practice/study; some cultures (including some of the ones that valorize learning) are scornful of theory and research in pedagogy/androgogy, educational psychology, and related fields.

We have all learned things and we have probably - at least informally - taught other people things, and we can all usefully share experiences as long as we allow for potential confusion along the way.