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Teaching is neat, learning is messy

Posted on: November 27, 2013

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

That was my simple contribution during chats I had with a few people at an event recently. The event was organized for people who believe that e-learning is videos of them lecturing.

Teaching can (and often should) be organized and methodical. But it is still just delivery. You can deliver but that does not mean that it goes to the right person, at the right time, or in the right place. A group of people gathered at one time and in one place does not mean they are ready to learn.

Instructors brought up on the diet of lectures often forget what it is like to learn when they were younger. They almost certainly do not know what it is like to learn in the age of social media, Wikipedia, and YouTube.

messy apartment by ryochiji, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  ryochiji 


It is very messy.

You can try bringing some order to the messiness. Most will try to bring the order in at the beginning by delivering rules, boundaries, curricula, and content. But that only creates barriers that can stifle learning.

You need to be immersed in the messiness as a co-learner. That way you relate to what learners experience when they are new to something. They need to struggle with problems, experiences, and content. Each learner will find something that works.

A good instructor will manage the messiness by facilitating multiple journeys to more or less the same place. This is not as difficult as it sounds. It is difficult if the learner does not want to be there because s/he is not ready to learn. It is easier if you remove barriers to learning and leverage on the self-motivation that results from freedom.

A good instructor also creates confidence in learners. Learners must be able to look up from the messiness from time to time and know that their instructor is there to advise, guide, and even admonish.

A good instructor creates opportunities for consolidation by requiring learners to reflect. On a journey, this is similar to taking stock of the journey, knowing where you are, and anticipating what lies ahead. This is where neatness is necessary and timely.

I say this as a neat freak. I have a place for everything and I like everything in its place. But I embrace messiness in learning because even that has its place.

3 Responses to "Teaching is neat, learning is messy"

Chaos creates the opportunities!


It certainly does. And so does organized chaos. 😉


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