Metaphors for learning



I wanted to say that exercise was a bad metaphor for learning. An ineffective analogy.

The thing about exercise is that it promises progressive improvement as a result of repetition and consistency. You do the same thing, over and over, for a period of time each day. Or each week. Whatever. The point is that doing the same thing leads to improved outcomes.

Learning isn't like that. Consistent daily bouts of multiplication doesn't make us better at adding fractions. Doing the same grammar exercises over and over doesn't lead to better paragraphing.

But sometimes that "try it again" behaviour shows up, and I get the sense that learning has been replaced by just showing up and doing something comfortable.

So I wanted to talk about metaphors.

I wanted to say learning was like building a house.

But building a house, an orderly assembly of tasks toward a structured end, is a much neater affair than most of the adult learning I've witnessed. Worse, the imagery implies that one ought to start with a "foundation" (whatever that might mean) and follow a set of plans as closely as possible. The image can be used to justify the imposition of a curriculum at the cost of reactive or impulse learning.

I thought about knitting - I don't know why. That took me right back to repetitive tasks that, miraculously, lead to a finished, improved outcome.

Then I thought about walking. I thought about walking in the woods; perhaps to a small pond. I thought about how, each time you came to the pond, you might see something new and understand more.

I was pretty happy with that.

And then I realized that my metaphor for learning was, well, an example of learning.

I guess there's nothing like the real thing.




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