From the First Nations Principles of Learning: Learning is Reflective

From the First Nations Principles of Learning: Learning is Reflective

Learning is Reflective, by Rob Wahl

It is often said that you won’t learn by experience; rather, you learn by reflecting on experience. I do occasionally preach sermons, but I have not mastered the art. I find that contrary to what people say, just getting up in front of people more often won’t make me a better preacher. I prepare, I deliver, and I go onto something else, and nothing changes. The only way I’m going to get better is if I reflect on what I learn. I have to ask myself what worked well, what didn’t work well, and what I have to do differently. Last time I spoke I got mixed up in the drafts of my message. I ended up with a chunk missing from my notes and had to ‘wing it’. Not good. Note to self: have a plan for the storage of the text of the message. That’s reflective learning.

We have long moved on from behaviourism in education, but I hold to the behaviourist definition of learning I was taught, not as the truth, but as a handy way of recognizing learning. Learning, I was taught, is a change in behaviour following experience. So, by this definition, a learner who reads a book and can’t say, do, or ponder a single thing about it hasn’t learned at all—or have they? Actually they probably have, but you don't know for sure.

Between Terrace and Prince Rupert, there is the Exchamsiks River. The river is beautiful and serene when seen in the Provincial Park. For those who brave the four-wheel-drive road and the 45-minute hike, there is a glorious waterfall to visit. The river simply spills over the cliff. The sounds, sights, and feelings almost defy description. Suppose a learner visits the Exchamsiks Waterfall. Afterward, they can’t say anything to describe this experience. We can still insist that by being there they must have learned. We might be able to infer something of what they learned, but we don’t know. When we reflect on the experience. The sighs, sounds and cool mist; the smooth rock and clear pools, then we begin to take it from a mere experience to true learning. Write a poem, a story, or an essay. Think and reflect. Then you will truly learn from the experience, for learning is reflective.

What a great principle of learning. How much more powerful would it be if it was second nature. That is to say, when embarking on such a trip, why would not one expect to reflect on the experience. We tell our grandparents, our aunt, and our baby brother. Each person gets a story tailored to their interest, all of which are true, but each story special in its way. We share our lives and we are connected through our experience. People share what they noticed and the learning experience becomes whole, complete, and reflective. We would all do well by including as much reflectivity in our experiences as possible.