Strange to say, I am struggling with this. Perhaps it’s because so much of my learning has been self-directed as an independent researcher, and I haven’t been in a classroom situation for a while. I’ve twice attempted to learn Gaelic in a class setting, once joining in BA Scottish Music students, and once at local authority evening classes at the Gaelic School – but neither of those experiences would make it into my “top ten” of learning experiences. The first was, unfortunately, just a more conversational approach than I have been used to for learning languages – that, combined with the fact that it meant studying through my lunchbreak once a week, which wasn’t ideal. The second attempt would have been okay if there hadn’t been a succession of teachers, and some very icy weather at night. And in both instances, although I really did want to learn, I think my timing was bad. I should have known that my learning goes in waves, and after I’d just finished the PhD, perhaps it wasn’t the best time to start learning a language. Maybe I’ve learned several lessons from all this, but more about how I don’t learn, than how I do.
On the other hand, a few weeks ago we watched Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, give a televised speech. Despite the fact that I have no interest in the IMF and had never heard of Christine Lagarde before, her public speaking was electrifying. It was her delivery that so impressed me – to be so fluent, and so able to command attention, is a great gift, and I would love to watch some more of her presentations for that alone, quite apart from talking about the IMF! Her timing was incredible. She looked all round her audience. There was no hesitation, and if she had notes, you would never have known. So, it was unintended learning for me, and if I was to think about the learning context, it was probably this: I had the time to listen and pay attention. The speaker was excellent. And probably most importantly, from an educational point of view, she was doing something that I was motivated to learn – I’m very interested in public speaking. Clearly, the best learning is going to take place when the learner has a need to learn. As Phil Race says, two of the five factors underpinning successful learning are wanting and needing to learn.
However, I have to concede that this was probably not the kind of learning experience that I have been asked to reflect upon, and I would need to study her delivery in more detail to learn more from it. Also, Race’s other points of ‘learning from feedback’, and ‘learning by doing’ were not present, though the fifth one, ‘making sense’ was arguably there, because I have attended seminars about public speaking before, and Lagarde did demonstrate many of the best practice principles that I already knew about.