29 Oct 2007

Learning leads to... more learning

I've been in Turkey on an extremely intensive five day study visit of Ankara Vocational Education and Training projects and institutions. It was enlightening to spend some time in the field among the young and not so young that are the object of many learning initiatives.

Especially since in Turkey there's so much investment of new education products going on, I had the opportunity to see the many stages of education development. During the different insights I gathered in numerous meetings, one was this: it takes a lot of learning to enhance the learning experience. And it usually starts with languages.

Perhaps in the past learning could be straightforward. There would be some subject you could be taught about in a certain time frame.

No longer is this the case. Acquiring knowledge is a much more incremental process, where the process is often part of the objective. So when I want to learn about a political structure of a country, I can do this by reading books about that country. This is learning old style.

I can also visit Wiki pages in the country's language(s), and count on the fact that some of the key concepts will be in a language I can comprehend. Which they will often be. I can try translating certain parts through one of the excellent translation sites. But all this means that I will first have to learn the language of Wiki, the way it works, the value of the contribution system.

In this case, my seeking of knowledge will make me acquire other knowledge first.

In the same vein, as a teacher teaching about the political structure of a country will it no longer be the teacher's job to write or provide books about the subject, but to teach how to access the available sources. The way Wiki works, the value of blogs or the relativity of them, the journalistic principles.

And of course how a library works, but perhaps this will also be available in accessible form so a teacher won't have to make it up all over again.

It's the teacher as coach idea, but it is of course broader than that. It's also the value of teaching respect for other ways, other languages, and an insight in the particularities of learning another than one's own language.

The net is multi-language and instead of being a drawback, this can be an aid to understanding.

When I was in China, it was obvious many Chinese are pragmatic about this; they use English when speaking to foreigners. Of course they are well aware of the fact that Chinese will get them very far in a large part of their world, but they know that by learning the lingua franca, more information and opportunities become available.

It is a message I can't stress enough: languages are a good way to speed up learning. If I want to learn something about the latest technology, do I have to confine myself to my own language to look for sources? Or can I use more to get to understanding faster? If I want to ask a question to an engineer, will it not help if I understood her or his language?

There is so much language learning material readily available, it would be short-sighted not to use it. I've been learning Portuguese both formally and online and in the twelve years since I started being interested in it, so much has become available. And this for the fifth language in the world. Just imagine what you could find in English!


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