How many of you were crammers at school? I certainly was. Squashing a term's worth of work into 2 days of hasty revision was my usual study strategy. If you flip through my university textbooks you’ll see pages and pages of highlighted text. Somehow, the act of reading, deciding which the significant points were, and then scribbling all over those with neon-coloured pens, worked to fix the information in my head well enough to secure me most of the grades I needed. As long as I read it in the 48 hours prior to the exam. (No one tell my children! *grin*) The rest of the time, I read novels, dreamed, and did other things.
But was this the most efficient form of learning? Certainly not! As adult learners, we all know that we learn best by experience. Book lessons are useful, and necessary to give us excellent grounding in the theories of this, that and something else; but when it comes to what we really need to know to live well, the University of Life itself is our best teacher. Lived experience – seeing those dry, dusty, book-bound theories lived out in front of us every day – that’s where the crucial learning and change and stuff of life happens.
And yet, have you ever noticed that you haven’t really properly absorbed some of your life’s lessons? Sometimes it’s simply that we haven’t been paying attention to the appropriate events. If we don’t focus our attention on a particular event, there’s absolutely no chance of any of that particular set of sensory information making its way into your brain.
Sometimes we are paying attention, but there’s so much other stuff going on that our working memory is overwhelmed. (Did you know we can only hold about 4-7 pieces of information in working memory at one time – and then only if the information fits into labels and ideas already in our long-term memory storage?) If we are being bombarded with distractions from outside or within ourselves, and we aren’t able to adequately “rehearse” the information (i.e. go over it a few more times), it gets lost in the neural cracks and falls through, and never gets properly lodged in our long-term memory.
But if we have been paying attention, and have remained focussed long enough for the information to shift into our long term memory, we can say that we have “learned” it. But is this even enough? This type of learning is fairly superficial. It can be good enough to get us through an exam or assignment, but for making a life-long difference, one more step is required. That of reflection.
Reflection is that mental attitude and time you spend looking back at that particular event in your life, and start questioning it analytically, with gentleness and curiosity.
“What just happened there?”
“What really just happened then?”
“What did I learn from it?”
“What did I do well? What would I like to try differently next time?”
“How was I feeling when that happened? What was making me experience that feeling?”
“What would [relevant significant person] have seen if they’d been there? Is that what I saw or something different?”
"What does this mean for my life?"
“How did this effect the people around me? How would it affect the people I love?”
…. And so on.
Reflection is that point where we pull out our lived experience, and evaluate it from many different perspectives. In so doing, we tend to see things differently, in a wider scale. The learning sinks deeper into our psyche, and makes more of a difference to the life we have and therefore to the lives of the people within our spheres of influence.
This is my aim for this blog. I want to take us on a journey of reflection and learning and dreaming and growth. I hope to pull out our life experiences, look them over, develop our perspectives, and deepen our engagement with our own lives. It will, I trust, be a learning experience for all of us! Thank you for joining me!