How to develop meaningful learning?


I heard a trainer comment that he couldn’t teach the group he was working with, he could only help them learn.  At least he recognised the change of emphasis from teaching and training to focusing on the needs of the learner.  When we observed what this meant the reality was, as is so often the case, teaching and training are mistaken for learning.  This was then tested in an attempt to show some leaning had taken place.  Job done.
As average grades at A-Level, GCSE, Degree and the like go up year on year, it is not that students are getting smarter but simply they are being taught to pass the exams better.  I had a colleague who turned to me and asked what the ‘H’ in H2O meant?  It turned out she had an A grade in Chemistry and a high level University Degree.  How did she achieve this level of academic prowess and yet not know something as fundamental as the chemical symbol for Hydrogen? “I just learned the stuff for the exam and then forgot it.”  A brilliant example of superficial learning.
When have you really learned something?  Actually, consciously thought; I want to know that, I want to be able to do that, how does that work and then set off to find out. 
You now have a combination of possibilities.
  1. Vertical learning:  Get someone who is an authority to tell you or show you.
  2. Horizontal learning:  Ask your mates.  Get your peers to help you.
  3. Experiment:  Teach yourself in whatever way works best for you.

When I broke my ankle Fell-Running and was at a loss for something to do in the summer evenings, I decided to take up rock climbing.  First port of call was my mate who could lead up to HVS (technical grade for a climb ‘Hard Very Severe’). I was relatively safe and happy to have me belay him.  So far so good. 
The next step was self-teaching.  My ankle was taking weight so I started leading.  It was going well until I was half way up a crack on Stanage Edge in the English Peak District and ran out of knowledge.  I was suddenly a technique short.  I couldn’t figure out how to go up any further and I’d never tried going down.  At this point the self-teach, experimental approach resulted in a quite long plummet, the testing of safety gear and some use of colourful language.  That’s the point at which I learned something about how to rock climb. My next move was to do a training course. 
Only when we make a conscious decision to learn for ourselves does meaningful learning take place and it doesn’t always have to involve heart stopping moments.