Value 1 An understanding of how people learn (I learn, you learn, we learn) #SLEC2012

Pick 'n' mix

We are all different, and therefore do and learn in different ways. Sometimes, however, we get stuck, we loose ourselves, don’t know how we learn best or haven’t discovered it yet.  We also have different preferences or strengths. Some call them learning styles and there is a big debate about these. Gardner (2009) talks about multiple intelligences and the different blends of different inteligences we all have (Would you like to do a test and find out about yourself? Then click here to complete an interactive test). Gardner states that it is important “knowing who we are and what we can do. Part of the answer lies in biology – the roots and constraints of our species – and part of it in our history – what people have done in the past and what they are capable in doing” (p. 115) and these factors are all very important to define who we are today, based on our yesterdays and what we have the potential to become tomorrow.

Just different!

Just different! Would it not be boring if we were all the same???

I sometimes call them learning habits or learning preferences. Some of them can be bad habits. Or could we not say this? Being aware of these, will help us use our strengths to develop further in other areas and this is the benefit I see from perhaps being aware of who we are and how we do things and learn. If we use them to box people and be judged, that is not good and will have a negative effect on individuals motivation and curiosity to learn and develop further (see also Coffield et al, 2004).

Not feeling good in here!!! Where is everybody?

Not feeling good in here!!! Why is everybody like me? Where are the others?

On top of all this, we recognise that the way we learn is changing. We can now learn non-stop if we choose to do so. Technological advancement in combination with new pedagogies mean that we carry learning opportunities in our pockets and we have access to information and can connect with others easily and constantly. Learning is no longer done mainly within Educational institutions. It extends to informal and non-formal spaces and places. Learning opportunities are everywhere. Was this always the case? I think it was, however, the opportunities have been massively magnified and there are definitely more now and for more people.

We learn best when we can build or construct new knowledge by linking to existing knowledge. But how does this happen? And the word ‘happen’ sounds somehow passive. Knowledge is not something we can spoon feed an individual or the masses. We definitely don’t absorb knowledge and it is painful reading and hearing that this is actually possible… Knowledge creation is a highly active, synthesised processes and requires deep engagement, critical and creative thinking. No, teaching doesn’t mean knowledge transmission eighter. It doesn’t even mean information transmission. Teaching is not a transmission of stuff full stop. Gardner (2009) says “ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves.” (p. 115). So knowledge is not something we can just buy or get passively from somebody else. What does this all mean for teachers?

Is together an/the answer?

Is together an/the answer?

Is there an imperative need for educators (I don’t like this word, maybe teachers is better) to focus more on scaffolding and facilitating in order to stimulate thinking? And if this is true, or what we or some of us believe today, how can we stimulate thinking? Socrates and Plato did it through dialogue and conversations – with others and I think this is the key and has the potential to practice co-learning and co-creating. Lawson (2009) also refers to learning through regular dialogue to improve teaching and Academic Developers play a vital role in creating the conditions and the opportunities for dialogue with academics and other professionals who support learning in HE on a day-to-day basis. But what about  passion? Is learning infectious and can we motivate others to learn (more) through sharing our passion for teaching and learning? Can discoveries emerge this way, eureka moments and excitement lived. Do we have the power to experience transformative learning as defined my Mezirow (1997) through which a shift in attitudes and behaviours can be achieved and is far more than skills development, training and mechanical quick fixes which are not really benefiticial as Roche (2003) states.



The chameleon developer adopts a pick ‘n’ mix strategy and supports academics using a plethora of methods and tricks to enable and promote learning. We help others to become self-directed, self-organised and inter-connected learners and practitioners. We share our passion for teaching and learning (to model learning is especially vital!) but we also model (or should!) innovative practices and behaviours as well as peer learning. We have to be flexible, adaptive and probably elastic too and enthuse others to make changes to their practice that lead to personal and institutional growth and transformation. We should also empower all professionals teaching in HE to create stimulating learning experiences for their students and enable them to unlock and achieve their full potential.

It is also important for us academic developers to keep teaching or supporting ‘real’ students. This is something that has been overlooked for a while…


Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E. and Ecclestone, K. (2004) Learning Styles and Pedagogy in Post-16 Learning: A systematic and critical review: London: Learning and Skills Research Centre, available at

Gardner, H. (2009) Multiple approaches to understanding, in: Illeris, K. (ed.) Contemporary theories of learning. Learning theorists… in their own words, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 106 – 115.

Lawson, D. (2009) The CETL Experience, in: Ramsden, P (ed.) Teachers as learners – the development of academic staff, HEA: Academy Exchange 8, August 2009, pp. 22-23.

Mezirow, J. (1997) Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice, in: Transformative Learning in Action: Insights from Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. no. 74, edited by P. Cranton, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pp. 5–12.

Roche, V. (2003) Being an agent of change, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

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