patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

On sequence dancing and learning to learn

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At the Blackpool Sequence Dance Festival 2011, in the Empress Ballroom of the Winter Gardens, attempting to learn brand new sequence dances, with a large group of people, I found it very difficult. It was wonderful and I loved it, especially as others took pity on us and helped us out, yet I really struggled to pick up 16 bars of steps in half an hour.

I could see many people, 20 years my senior and more, finding it quite easy to do what seemed an almost impossible task to me. What was it that made us different?

Maybe we could put it down to learning styles: this is not my favoured way of learning, I would rather read instructions first or have them explained to me in an environment where I could ask lots of questions, and then slowly piece the whole together part by part. I also seemed to suffer from ‘performance pressure’ that may have been absent in a smaller group or on my own.

It was possibly David Kolb that introduced the notion of learning styles, along the lines of: learning has a cycle of four stages and though all stages are required we may have a preference for a certain stage more than others. I have the impression that Honey and Mumford‘s learning styles are more or less the same as Kolb’s, but with more accessible labels, so we have Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist styles. One implication of the theory is that we learn best when our own style is adequately catered for, Activists and Pragmatists preferring to learn by doing, Reflectors and Theorists favouring a more thinking approach etc. Learning professionals closer to NLP might use the distinctions Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic as learning styles.

But isn’t this somewhat limiting? “I don’t learn that way” “It’s not my learning style” could easily become an excuse to prevent further learning. Isn’t it rather that what is needed is learning at a higher level?

Gregory Bateson proposed that there are levels of learning, where Learning 0 is an habitual automatic response to a given stimulus, Learning 1 is a trial and error process of adaptation to the given environment, Learning 2 is a process of corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choices are made at level 1, and Learning 3 (which rarely, if ever occurs) is about our whole process of forming, exchanging and losing level 2 habits.

Learning how to learn in the situation I described above would be Learning 2, which would then mean that on future occasions I could participate more successfully in the trial and error process of learning the new dances in the large group in only half an hour. One way to do this would be to model the strategies of other dancers/learners, which would I suggest also be a more sophisticated use of NLP.

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Written by Andy Parkinson

November 10, 2011 at 8:00 am

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