The jury is still out on whether Jamie Oliver will achieve his aim of inspiring former students back into education through his Dream School.
But, if nothing else, last night’s episode brilliantly illustrated three important lessons, not just for education but also for workplace learning.
- Lesson 1: Practical learning beats theoretical learning hands-down
One of the girls, loitering in the corridor rather than stick out the end of the history lesson, said that it wasn’t as good as the other classes because it wasn’t practical enough.
These students want to know what they’ll be able to do with what they’ve learnt and how they can actually apply it; by and large they’re not interested in theory. They’ll engage more with Shakespeare if they can perform it, not just read it off the page. It’s the same with workplace learning: your learners will take more notice of a compliance training course if they’re given a chance to explore the consequences of action they might feasibly make in the workplace. They’ll remember the customer service course more favourably if they can learn by doing through simulations and feedback.
- Lesson 2: The best way to earn respect is to give respect
Being an expert doesn’t make you better than someone. You don’t deserve respect just because you’ve got more letters after your name or more years of experience under your belt. In fact, being labelled an expert (or a teacher) more likely means you’ve got to work twice as hard for that respect – many learners, just like those unruly kids in the history classroom last night, are wary from the word go, just waiting for you to make them feel small. The worst thing you can do is live up to that expectation by talking down to them or patronising them.
Taking the opposite approach – sitting across from the students instead of towering above them; asking them questions about themselves instead of making judgements; walking among them and talking with them instead of lecturing from the front of the room – meant that Simon Callow was able to take the first steps into engaging the kids with Shakespeare, Ellen McArthur made them realise how much they had to gain from being there, and Robert Winston got them excited and curious about science.
- Lesson 3: Being a great teacher takes more than knowledge
When I was at university I was lucky enough to be taught by some of the true experts in the field; they’d literally written the books on it. While that’s a great privilege, it’s not always everything it’s cracked up to be. This series is advertised under the strapline ‘Can star teachers make star pupils? but David Starkey provided the most wonderful illustration of the big and important difference between a subject matter expert and a learning expert, or indeed between a professor and a teacher.
Knowing your topic inside-out does not guarantee that you can transfer that knowledge effectively to other people. Perhaps that’s partly because, if it’s your passion, you take it for granted that everyone else starts from a similar position of interest. But how often is that the case? In a classroom, the teacher has to adopt both roles in one, combining understanding the subject with understanding learning. In e-learning, though, there’s the opportunity to have the best of both worlds – an e-learning course written by one without the other is missing a trick.