Last night I listened to Stephen Downes’ lecture at #teched about Personal Learning Environments. One quote stuck with me:
The learner is the product of education
To me that means the product of education isn’t a diploma, or a certificate. The product of education is the delta between the individual’s knowledge from when they started the instruction and when the instruction is over.
That makes lots of sense to me. It started me thinking of my daughter. For those of you who don’t know, my daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome. She was not formally diagnosed until she was a teenager, but I always knew her little brain worked differently than most everyone else.
One reason she was diagnosed so late is that she talked very early. She was saying words at 4 months, and talking in sentences before she was 1. She took a long time to learn to walk, and thinking back I believe its because she was having sensory issues. We’d hold her little hands and try and coax her to walk, but if we let go she would sit down and emphatically tell us NO!!!! My friends used to tease me because my daughter would sit on the ground and say, “Mom can I have a cookie” but she couldn’t walk. She was probably about 12 or 13 months at the time.
Of course we encouraged it. So did my brothers, who were all teenagers at the time. They loved having a little parrot around. But looking back, she wasn’t really having conversations. She had just figured out using words was a good way to explore the world. She never did the thing where babies crawl everywhere and stick things in their mouths…she asked questions. She would ask the same question 6 or 7 different ways. And we’d answer 6 or 7 ways if we could. But she could talk before she was one, so didn’t that prove that she was smart and perfect? (And yes of course she is brilliant and as close to perfect as you can get!).
The other thing that is typical of folks on the spectrum is that they usually have at least one special interest. It becomes all they want to talk about. That gets very, very annoying. One of my daughter’s earliest special interests was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I don’t remember much about it, but she must have been going on and on about Ninja Turtles because one day I told her that the Turtles were named after famous artists.
She couldn’t believe that. So I took her to the public library and we checked out four children’s picture books about Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. Now was my daughter content that I had proved the names came from artists? Was she content to just look at the pictures?
Of course not. She wanted to know the stories behind each of the famous works of art. This led to a new special interest – Greek and Latin mythology stories. At some point a few years later I couldn’t take the Greek stories anymore had to branch off again, I told her that the constellations all had stories too. This sent her off on a journey to discover everything about that topic. I think this helped solidify her love of stories.
So what does this have to do with Downes?
We have to stop looking at a degree as the end result of education. I found ways to use my daughter’s special interests to help her learn more, to help her have more than one special interest. This is important to unlock the potential off of us have. Early on I fell victim to measuring what she needed based on norms – I should have realized her speaking so early was telling me something else.
My friend calls me about her friend’s son quite often these days. She thinks the boy must be on the spectrum, and asks for advice (the boy reminds her of my daughter). The boy is 11 or 12, and his special interest in Mario. He carries a Mario doll to school, he is obsessed with plumbing and mushrooms. They met a young Japanese lady at the beach and the boy immediately drew her a picture of Princess Peach. My advice to her: make sure the parents play Mario! That seems so obvious.
Relationship to Corporate Learning
It seems to me we have to measure by the change in the individual learner. If that is what we measure, how do we create the best environment for individuals to learn? We can’t individualize instruction, so how do we show them the path to the things that will help them learn? How can we help them get from Ninja Turtles to Persephone?