Learning from the unexpected – teachable moments (non-technology)

I am privileged to teach both at a university and for children aged 6 – 18 years and I find that engaging with both of these groups allows me to advance my teaching for the other.  

A common thread for me is often a reminder of the experiential learning that we often take for granted.  For example – I was teaching a group of teenagers and overseeing the younger groups of children.  I remember looking up and immediately thinking – oh no the 6 year old’s are mucking around again, they can’t be learning.   The picture below is one of the things I saw:


Permission was gained from this young man to use his photograph on social media.  

At first I thought, “Oh no – they are mucking around” – this looks bad on my part as an adult / educator.  Minutes later, I remembered that there was a lot of hidden learning opportunities in this moment that I had briefly overlooked.  For example, bandages are stretchy, they feel rough which helps them to grip, you can tie them, roll them up and use them to stop bleeding.  For 6 year old children this is ample sensory / experiential learning.  Furthermore, you can make a “mummy” which is fun and assists with dexterity.  My job is to recognise and bring meaning to these moments which in turn allows a student to learn and grow.

Application of this at a university level is more challenging and can be equally rewarding.  Society today is fast paced and teaching and learning is not offered in the same way it was when I was young.  This means that I now need to work with the unknown rather than the known / comfortable learning environment.  For me this has become a journey of research, learning and experimenting with guiding others learning to achieve the best outcome for them.

Information is available 24/7 using technology and is at the fingertips of those learning, the balance between what students can learn, have learned or intend to learn is much more broad than when I was an undergraduate student.  I find that I rely on students self directed learning much more with the ease of access to information and it is easy to forget the diversity that our students bring.  This makes me question a few things:

  • Is our education environment conducive to individual education which takes into account life experience, prior learning and builds on this?
  • There seems to be a drive to offer the same learning experiences for all students, is this even possible?
  • How do we manage this balance between individual and collective education experiences? 

These questions are not new and I seem to revisit them regularly, work hard on a path toward achieving these with current students only to find that the same learning environment does not suit the next students..  With one triumph comes a less successful moment and as one of my colleagues regularly reminds me the journey and learning we have from this is often just as important as the destination.  

Today, again, my questions have no definitive answer.  This has reminded me that teachable moments are everywhere, in individual and collective situations.  These are valuable, recognising and acting on these is an important part of making a difference in education.

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