Enablers of Learning

December 3, 2010

Once again I’d like to return to one of my favorite authors, Paula Underwood. Paula wrote a lot about “enablers of learning”. This was a term that I instinctively liked from the minute I first read it but I could not put my finger on exactly what an “enabler of learning” was.

It was clear to me that the term related to “teaching” and it was also clear to me that it put the emphasis on the correct part of the process. Teachers teach. Enablers of learning enable learning. It sounds simple enough doesn’t it? What do we want to accomplish with this process, teaching or learning? The answer seems obvious to me. But the deeper meaning still eluded me.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I attended the AYE Conference in Phoenix AZ. The conference was hosted by Jerry Weinberg, Esther Derby, Johanna Rothman, Don Gray and Steve Smith. I knew and respected several of them through their writings but had never had the pleasure of meeting anyone of them in person and thus did not really know what to expect from the conference.

Today, looking back at what I experienced during this conference I can honestly say that all five of these persons were the worst teachers that I’ve ever come in contact with. During the four days I attended the conference, they didn’t teach me one single thing! … But, they did define the term “enablers of learning” to me. I have not ever learned as much during such a brief period of time as I did during these four days with the help of these five persons (and the rest of the conference attendees). The hosts offered scenarios and an environment that allowed me to open up my eyes to what mattered most to me at the time. They hosted sessions with no predetermined outcomes and no rights or wrongs. They coached us through the sessions and into whatever understandings that we found during the sessions. I’m positive that all the other attendees learned as much as I did but I’m equally positive that what they learned was completely different from what I brought home.

When you act as a teacher, you have full control over your process but no control whatsoever over the outcome. You can utter your words, you can run your exercises, you can grade your tests but you never know if anyone has learned anything.

When you act as an enabler of learning, you have very limited control over the process but you know for sure that your peer learns what matters most to him/her at this precise moment in time. As an enabler of learning you put your focus on the person and not on the process, you provide the conditions needed to learn but you do not try to judge what should be learned. As an enabler of learning you honor the principle that people can only learn what they want to learn and when they are ready to learn it.

Do you teach or do you enable learning?

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