Sunday, October 13, 2013

Disruption (Armenian Faculty Development, Day 3)

As I am fighting some jet lag this evening/morning, I have time to squeeze in a post prior to my day of workshops with the faculty at the American University of Armenia.

One of Ken Bain's arguments about learning is that it has to begin with failure.  We are first motivated to learn when we encounter a problem or situation for which our current knowledge and thinking seems inadequate.  If we care about that failure, we then set out to learn.

More generally speaking, you could argue that learning begins with disruption. Something disrupts our normal patterns of thinking, behaving, or negotiating the world, and we have to consider things anew or gain new knowledge or skill to manage that disruption.

Traveling to a foreign country, especially a very unfamiliar one--Armenia, in my case--provides an easy example of disruption which can launch the learning process. All of my regular routines are disrupted simply by my displacement in time and space, and by the fact that I don't speak the language or know the customs.  So that means I have to switch on my cognitive faculties and begin to learn if I want to successfully negotiate the environment.  I grab a map and begin walking my way around the streets, checking my progress and noting familiar landmarks.  I listen to people speaking, tune in on simple words, and ask friendly waiters to teach me a word or two of the language; I watch people engage in everyday acts of business and imitate them as best I can.  All of these are attempts to gain the skills and knowledge I need to master a new environment--the most fundamental form of learning in which human beings engage.

And it all begins with disruption.  If I had a "fixer" here along with me, someone who walked beside me at every moment, translated everything for me, guided me through the streets, and transacted all of my business for me, I wouldn't need to switch on those cognitive faculties in the same way.  The disruption has to be real if it inspires learning.

Where does this sense of disruption fit into our normal learning environments?  Are students "disrupted" simply by arriving in a new classroom each semester?  Or do they need more disruption than that in order to push them into the kind of learning that I am experiencing over the course of these few days in Armenia?

Getting these thoughts down in writing seems to have helped my disrupted sleep pattern, so I will sign off for now and head back to bed.

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