Someone asked me a question recently: “Tell me about something new you have learned this year and how you learned it?” At first my mind went to something I had discovered on Twitter, and some other technology-related skills, but then I thought of something that really put me out of my comfort zone. Like most learning, this was personal: I cooked a turkey for the first time. I was hosting Christmas dinner at my place for the first time, and this was going to be key to the success of the day.
How did I learn to do it? The first thing I did was Google for a recipe. I included the words “easy” and “beginner” in my search. I read several recipes, from sites like the Food Network and BBC Food and watched a handful of step-by-step videos. I read the comments left by other community members about the recipes, and got some other perspectives. I admired the confidence of other cooks who added and adjusted without fear. Of course, I sought advice from local friends. I had a Skype call with our family expert, my younger brother, Paul, which led to an animated discussion on the relative merits of frying or brining. I opted for neither, despite his encouragement, but know that I might try these techniques once I get more experience. On the day, I selected a cooking method and recipe that I felt comfortable with, using ideas from my variety of assembled sources. I have all of these sources pinned to a Pinterest page, ready for hosting at my next family holiday, ready to share my learning with others.
I did this without a second’s thought about process, until I was asked that recent question about how I continue to learn. This set me thinking about how this process differed from the way my mother learned to roast a turkey. She learned primarily from her own local expert, her mother. And her mother learned the identical process from my great grandmother. They may have consulted a cookbook, certainly not more than one or two, probably written by Julia Child, a favorite of the time. She would have learned primarily by watching my grandmother.
Mom and I both learned how to roast a turkey. Both of us were motivated by a need to learn this skill. Unlike my mother, I had a variety of open sources and opinions to consult. I was able to combine and create a procedure that worked for my level of expertise, and I have some ideas of how and where I might extend my culinary learning if I would like expand my repertoire.
We know it is time to embrace learning opportunities that technology affords us. The one-size-fits-all deliver-the-learning approach is obsolete, so what should learning look like now? Perhaps there is something to be learned from my turkey experience. We need to provide opportunities for students to decide what they would like to learn, and then provide them with the time, space, resources and guidance in order for them to reach their goals. All of this must be built on a foundation of nurturing relationships. In essence, self-directed, self-selected learning experiences that result in a tangible product or action should be at the heart of education in our digital word.