The Nature of Learning

How students learn was always fascinating to witness in the classroom. It was an engaging and motivating question when planning curriculum or problem solving a student’s lack of engagement in content. The question was a linchpin for 30+ years in the classroom.

I realized that the guiding principles for learning were as important for the classroom as for today with my own learning. I realize I need to use these principles as I continue to learn in the studio or learning in various art related endeavors such as selling work or having a website.

Principle #1 Learners at the Center. For adult learners we need to remember to construct our learning through our engagement and personally driven and active exploration. The workshops I take, the self-regulated on-line class, reading, and my own field trips to museums keep me motivated and excited to keep learning. I know I am most engaged when I “mix it up” with how I learn. However, what I need to remember is to set goals for my active exploration and share and monitor those goals. This is more difficult for me.

Principle #2 Learning is Social in Nature. Neuroscience confirms that we learn through social interaction. I learn so much more when I paint in a community because cooperative learning (a term used in the classroom) also pushes me to take more risks and to learn from other participants. I learn best with cooperative or collaborative learning mixed with the solitude of the studio. There is a lot of wisdom in a community of artists.

Principle #3 Emotions are Integral to Learning. Emotions, motivation, and cognition are intertwined in learning. One of the strongest determinant to artistic learning is the nasty inner critic! The most destructive role that my inner critic plays is beating down my motivation to try something new, to continue to complete a drawing or a painting as not being “good enough.” In order to learn deeply I need to replace the inner critic to positive beliefs. When I accept what is not in my nature, rather than being distracted by all I think I could be or should be, then all my inner resources are free to transform me into the artist-self I am striving to be.

Principle #4 Recognizing Individual Differences. I need to embrace my own style and not compare my work to others with “I wish I could do that.” We are unique. How I learn and how you learn is different. If I try to paint like the workshop instructor I will fail miserably. What is more satisfying and motivating is to take what I learn and modify and adjust the learning to my artistic style. One approach does not fit all. As one teacher stated, “Before we can be what we are meant to be, we must accept what we are not”.

Principle #5 Stretching All Learners. Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Sometimes I need to stretch my learning. I am not a cartoonist, but it was fun to take a cartooning class with all the Anime cartoonists. A new world was explored and it was enlightening! (I left cartooning somewhere around the years of Archie comics.) Will I ever cartoon? Probably not. But, I did interact with a group of artists who I had more in common with than I thought. I learned about the artistic world of cartooning.

Principle #6 Assessment for Learning. In the classroom formative assessment should be substantial, regular, and provide meaningful feedback. As a self-regulated learner I need to reflect for clarity of my expectations for what I am doing and “why.” Feedback is critical for me to maintain motivation. This principle is in play right now. I want to have a mentor who can give me meaningful feedback. Workshop instructors I have had do provide some feedback but it is a quick assessment for that moment. I want to find a mentor that can provide feedback about a body of work and over time.

Principle #7 Building Horizontal Connections. In the classroom this is about transferring knowledge from one grade level to the next or one content area to another. When I taught color, psychology and the science of color was also important to understanding color in other content areas. How do musicians use color? Scientifically, how does light affect color? This principle from classroom learning is a little different for adult learners but application of an artistic experience from years ago will often come back to me in a new way in my own work.

An important point concerning these seven principles: They are all important. In the absence of one, effectiveness cannot be maintained with a greater emphasis on another.

This was true in the classroom and as I move ahead in 2017. I will remember to continue my own learning with these principles in my mind.

Thanks for reading!