Learning by doing.

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At the end of this year, my teenage son has an exciting opportunity to travel to India for four weeks. He’ll be going with 15 other Yr 10’s and 11’s from his local highschool, as well as some teachers and a guide from the World Challenge programme. After spending a few days acclimatising, they will spend a week trekking in the Himalayas. They will then spend another week taking part in a project; maybe building a school in a remote community, or working with street kids in Delhi. The rest of the trip will be spent taking in sights and experiences which they could never find in their home town of Perth, Western Australia.

The World Challenge program is developed as an educational opportunity like no other. The kids spend nearly two years planning for it, saving for it and fundraising for it. They get to collaboratively plan the whole itinerary and book the transport and accommodation. The group get to choose the project they want to take part in, and the places they want to visit. During the trip, they take turns being the expedition leader for the day and taking responsibility for the group budget. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about life, leadership and other cultures. As parents, we know that he will learn more in this one month than he could in two years sitting in a classroom.

This trip is an example of reflective learning – the opportunity to learn through experiences, action and reflection. As Westeners, we tend to teach by talking. In fact, we talk so much that not very much gets done. My son is going to have the chance to learn things he never could in school. This trip will be an experience which shakes up his pre-conceived notions, gets him to re-evaluate them, and changes his world view and mindset.

Learning-by-doing is powerful because it speaks to where people are paying attention. Learning only ever happens when we are paying attention. It is possible to read a whole page without taking in a single word when our attention is not engaged. Attention and focus drive all learning. When we create an environment for people to learn through experience, they will pay attention to a certain aspect of that experience and learn from it. When we give people a change to explore their experiences and construct meaning from them, they will learn more than they can cognitively express.

Does your church intentionally create experiences for learning-by-doing, or does it only provide learning-by-listening? Can you think of some of the learning-by-doing experiences which have shaped your life? Do you see ways to introduce learning-by-doing into your church culture?

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