Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Cycle of Learning

Learning doesn't happen all at once. We aren't like Neo in The Matrix able to have information downloaded into our brain so that we can learn Kung Fu in an instant (though that is my deepest and truest desire in life). Instead we have to earn our knowledge.

Moses thought he was living a charmed life. He didn't know much about the slaughter of children and the trip down the river that started his existence. He just knew that he'd grown up in a palace as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He got that he was Hebrew -- possibly from his appearance -- but not much more than that. So when he saw an Egyptian and a Hebrew he decided to take matters into his own hands. He beat up the Egyptian and killed him. Instead of being celebrated as a hero he was shunned and ended up leaving the country for forty years.

As I'm writing this the world is mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela. He died a hero due to his peaceful work toward change. But he went to prison for acts of sabotage as a part of a militant resistance group opposed to apartheid in South Africa. Over the next twenty-seven years he languished in prison waiting for the end to racial oppression and it appeared that he wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

But were the years that Moses spent in the wilderness and the years that Mandela spent in prison wasted?

Here's where we need to look at the cycle of learning. We go through different steps to acquire knowledge and make it a part of our lives. Alan Mumford says the four steps of learning are Doing, Reflecting, Concluding and Planning.

When you do something you have an experience, it affects you, but you aren't sure exactly how. Your senses are involved. Moses killed the Egyptian. Mandela joined a militant group. Action is often the beginning of learning.

The next step is reflecting on the process. This isn't fun and it can take a long time. In some ways it took decades for Mandela and Moses to reflect on what they'd done. During reflection both emotion and reason work to help us process what happened and what the results were.

You shouldn't really jump to conclusions (even if you have a mat). They are hard-fought prizes that you get from wrestling with your emotions and reason. Mandela concluded that peace was a better way than violence. Moses concluded that trust in God was better than trust in himself. But they didn't make those conclusions easily or quickly.

After coming to a conclusion you can start planning what to do next. Here's where the cycle loops back on itself, because enacting the plan leads to another experience which starts the whole process over again. But without engaging in the process, without working through the cycle of learning there is no growth or change.

It's fun to play the what-if game and think it would be cool to instantly know Kung Fu, but if we don't learn it, if the knowledge is just downloaded into our brains, then we aren't prepared to use it. If I instantly knew Kung Fu, I wouldn't have the understanding of when to use certain moves or how my body would react to them. I wouldn't have the necessary muscles or calluses to keep myself from getting hurt. I wouldn't have the emotional calm to know how to avoid violence. In short I would lose just about any fight, badly.

It's easy enough to look at Moses' story as a series of before and after pictures. He was terrible and killed an Egyptian (before), he went to be a shepherd and talked to a bush (after). But we don't look at the hard-fought, decades-long process of learning that transformed him from a rash, prideful, youth into the leader of a nation. We don't often focus on the transformation that happened within Mandela during his nearly three decades in prison because that's not a fun story to tell.

But that's the true story. It's the story we can follow. It's the story we need to learn, and relearn.


If you could instantly have any knowledge, what would it be?

If other people could instantly have one piece of knowledge that you already possess (and be able to pull it off) which one would make you the most upset? Or to think about it from another perspective, what have you learned that you are most proud of knowing?

Why do you think most people don't focus on the time that Moses spent in the wilderness and Mandela spent in prison?

What helps you move through the cycle of learning? What holds you back in learning?

Why do you think God made it so we have to learn the way we do?

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