Doctor, doctor, help me learn

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Written by Paul Matthews on 24 September 2014

We go to our GP when we need some help. In effect, we are asking them to help us get better, to help us with our body so it can do what we want and need it to do for us so we can live our life in comfort and health.

Now, we know, and the doctor knows, that we all have a very powerful innate healing ability. If we cut our finger, we do not need to give instructions to our finger to heal. It just gets on with it. If the cut is bad enough, the doctor can help by stitching it up and using drugs to help the body fight off any infections. But we all know that the doctors, for all their skills, rely on the body's own healing intelligence. If the body could not heal itself, the doctor’s interventions would be completely ineffective.

Let's call that innate healing ability 'informal healing' and the doctor's interventions 'formal healing'.


How does that work as a metaphor for understanding the relationship between formal and informal learning?

Humans are a learning species. We would have been consigned to the evolutionary dustbin a long time ago without our ability to learn through our experiences, and modify our behaviour based on that learning. Over thousands of years we have become rather good at learning from experience. So good in fact that it is as much a part of us as our innate healing ability. We do indeed have an innate ‘informal’ learning ability.

We had this innate learning ability long before formal training courses, just like we had our innate healing ability before we had doctors.

Doctors can get amazing results with modern drugs and technology, and we can also get very good at achieving amazing learning results using the latest technical wizardry. But we must never forget that learning is still mostly informal, and without the natural and innate learning abilities of the people we are teaching, our efforts would amount to nothing.

Doctors, at least those without a ‘god’ complex, are continually asking “How can we aid this patient’s body to heal?” They know they are there to aid the body to heal rather than do the healing for the body. You don’t hear doctors talking about ‘delivering healing’. They know they get their best results by tapping into how healing already works and selectively guiding it, and accelerating it, and removing barriers that stop healing.

So the next time you think about ‘delivering learning’, stop and think again.

What are you really trying to do?


About the author
Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy. He can be contacted via

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