Rekindling the Spirit of Learning: Make a Joyful Noise

By Bell, Chip R. | Talent Development, February 2004 | Go to article overview

Rekindling the Spirit of Learning: Make a Joyful Noise


Bell, Chip R., Talent Development


Amen. That word was poignantly spoken from a participant near the back of the training room. It was followed by an awkward silence, sideways glances from other participants, and a muffled apology from the overly enthusiastic one.

That one-word pronouncement preached an entire sermon. But it wasn't a religious or other outburst from a problem participant; it was an expression of passion. Someone in the middle of learning got excited with a new discovery--and proclaimed it to everyone.

Such qualities as spirit, charisma, passion, and evangelism have taken a backseat to metric-driven, result-oriented, criterion-referenced learning. We want our participants to be instructed, not necessarily inspired; educated, but maybe not captivated. We like enthusiasm as long as it stays in the proper bounds of rational classroom decorum. And if a trainer moves participants to tears, makes them giggle or shout "Amen!" that trainer is labeled an edutainer rather than a serious, card-carrying change agent.

The late Malcolm Knowles, father of adult learning, was fond of saying that the greatest gift a trainer could give his or her students was love of learning. "Your primary goal is not to help people learn," he'd say to colleagues, "your goal is to help people fall in love with learning."

That was Knowles's way of telling trainers to get their participants to shout out when a new insight or discovery excites them. Learning is temporary; learning to learn is permanent. And the first principle of learning to learn is a passion for finding out what's not known.

When I was a training director for a large bank, I had all of the instructors in the department attend worship services at an African American gospel church. I gave them a list of specific things to watch: style, timing, body language, rapport, use of metaphor, drama, personalization--all tools for fostering inspiration, if not religious conversion. The goal was to learn techniques that the minister used to communicate, in a manner that both taught and inspired. I didn't want to turn trainers into preachers or diminish their facilitation skills. I wanted them to learn the role that spirit and cause have in enhancing the learning experience.

They left the church with new ideas for making their classes a magical experience, not just a stoic passage of information from brain to brain. As one trainer said, "I never realized my job was to manage the spirit of learning."

Our next field trip was to a theater to witness a dramatic play that took the audience's emotions on an extreme roller coaster ride. Several of my trainers volunteered to read stories to children in a hospital. One learned magic tricks to incorporate into her classroom. …

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