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chairman, Learning and Performance Institute @DonaldHTaylor

Donald H Taylor I

Don notes that, when it comes to helping people learn, some things never change

began my training career in 1987. I stood in front of a class of Italian teenagers

not much younger than myself and started on the basics of English. For someone newly qualified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, this was an intense assignment. I had to write and deliver several hours of learning activity each day for four weeks. Te combination of their tolerance and my youthful energy meant I survived and learnt a lot in the process; I hope they did, too. I was learning the tools of a trade that has been largely unchanged for generations – in my case, literally. I come from an unbroken line of teachers reaching back at least as far as my great-grandfather, Albert Smith. His handwritten school log stands on my bookshelf, a reminder of how much – and how little – some things have changed in our field.

I come from an unbroken line of teachers reaching back at least as far as my great-grandfather

While we no longer expect to finish

early for poor light, the local hunt or the harvest, the perpetual struggles over time, money and resources remain unabated. And when it comes to helping people learn, it seems there is much that my great-grandfather knew that we might still practice today.

Tale as old as time

Alongside Albert Smith’s log book is the 1929 Handbook of suggestions for the consideration of teachers (Board of Education, price 2s). Many of the suggestions in this enlightened little volume seem remarkably familiar today. On the need for authenticity, it

counsels: “Te problem for the teacher

is how to make practice genuine; how to prevent school life from being artificial.” On gamification, it notes that “rewards and punishments … are incentives of a temporary and external kind”, suggesting, along with present day guru Daniel Pink, that internal motivation is superior: “external motives do not nec- essarily become habits of lasting effect”. Want self-directed learners? Te

handbook advises “children should be led to regard school as their ally in their efforts after self-discovery”. As for personalisation, it praises “establishing connections between school work and the natural proclivities of the children”. Adding that “whatever cannot be so linked had indeed best be omitted”.

Progress, not perfection

Some might say that the very familiarity of these issues shows a lack of progress, that by now we should have a consensus on matters such as motivation and self-direction. I take a different view. We are constantly improving our understand- ing of how people learn, and our professional practice is more effective as a result. If it is not yet perfect, this should not surprise us. Learning is part of the fundamental stuff of what it is to be human. It is complex. Supporting it is complex. But it is also immensely rewarding, and each of us can take pride not only in help- ing others learn, but also in helping each other improve our shared practice along the way.

Donald H Taylor is a 25-year veteran of the learning, skills and human capital industries. He blogs at

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