Can I learn anything if I put my mind to it?
In his book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ Malcolm Gladwell proposes the 10,000-Hour rule, which states that to be a success at something you need to practice it for 10,000 hours. He cites the Beatles, Bill Gates and J. Robert Oppenheimer as examples of this phemenon. So, if I practiced something for 10,000 hours could I write the next Octopus’ Garden?
Possibly? The thing is that 10,000 hours is a lot of time. More time than I would guess that many of us would be prepared to commit to something. This idea – that motivation and opportunity are the pre-requisites for success – potentially undermines the deep/surface learning argument by questioning whether issues such as context, interrelatednes and application matter at all.
If motivation is everything, it doesn’t matter if we lock students in a box so long as they have sufficient motivation to learn while they are in there. This is the criticism often levelled at ‘top-class’ institutions; that success reflects selection policies rather than the quality of the student experience. Graham Gibbs uses the term ‘educational gain‘ to distinguish the value added as a consequence of an educational environment (rather than in spite of it). I think it a useful distinction.
Perhaps the first question that we should ask student is ‘why do you want to be here?’. Do they have to be there as a condition of probation or as barrier to trade? Do they want the recognition of having learned something more than the experience of learning it? This is the reason that I’ve always been daunted by the prospect of teaching secondary school students, who may well be there extremely reluctantly. Is it our job to make them interested, which is a rather exhausting prospect?
This type of debate has led to the introduction of a third type of leaner. Move over deep learner. Make way surface learner. Here comes the strategic learner. But that’s a story for another day.