How do you learn?

I learn by doing. By creating stuff, testing it in real life, and improving it after having seen real life results or reactions. By making a lot of mistakes and starting all over. By talking to a lot of people, exchanging thoughts and opinions. I read. I search the web for more info. I watch videos. I ask questions on Twitter. I learn sports by doing, doing, doing, trying, feeling. Reading “how to” in a book doesn’t work for me – I have to feel it, experience it.

How does this relate to the average education at school – where you have to listen to (sometimes very uninspiring) teachers for 45mins in a row, many classes one after the other?

Already at the average conference – where people really do their best to bring their message across, I often get lost or find my thoughts are drifting away. TED conferences are the big exception here. And there must be a reason why no TED talk is longer than 18 minutes.

But my learning style is not similar to your learning style. Some people need to draw, some prefer to listen. Some just want to read books, others prefer a game. It is known for a fact that everybody has their own preferred learning styles – which should be matched to get the most effective learning curve.

Today’s children live in a world where everything goes fast. They learn from playing games on their phones, from googling stuff they are interested in (or need to learn about).  Everything is visual, animated. This is very far from the average learning method which is still via books and lessons or lectures.

It doesn’t surprise me that children get bored and are uninspired by school, to say the least.

How do you learn? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

Moulding people into a system

The school system assumes that everybody learns in the same way, in the same rhythm, everything at the same moment in time.

We find it completely normal that every child learns to walk at a different age – my daughter needed almost double (!!) the time to learn to walk compared to my son. We also know that the age on which they learn to walk (9 or 18 months) doesn’t say anything about their performance (in for example sports) in later life. But at school, we still ask children to all learn at the same speed in classes which are horizontally organized, even if we know for a fact that everybody has their own rhythm and learning style.

I’m deeply concerned by the amount of children who are diagnosed as having a ‘problem’: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etcetera. It is a good thing that there is greater interest in the fact that every child is ‘unique’ and deserves its own learning trajectory. But diagnosing 10-25% of children with a “problem” is deeply worrying, especially if children receive medication like Ritalin to make them perform better at school – e.g. be more calm, quiet and concentrated during lessons. Read more about this concern and an example in this blog post.

Schools kill creativity. This is the punchline of the most watched (and highly recommended if you haven’t seen it yet) TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Children are born with a lot of creativity but our school system moulds all the creativity out of them. Watch his talk over here:


A popular diagram shows that at age 40, all creativity is knocked out of an average human being. Where are you on this diagram?

Source: George Land and Beth Jarman


The moulding continues after school

Also in after-school life, we continue to mould people into something they are not. In my TED talk, I shared my experience with the ‘personal development plan’ at Unilever. In order to get higher up into the management hierarchy (the only way to achieve more status), you have to develop your management skills. These have been defined as a set of skills on which you are supposed to score ‘good’, but not ‘too extreme’.

My profile instead was pretty extreme – my ‘passion and energy’ (A) went way beyond all boundaries, causing me to act like a ‘jumping puppy’. What I was lacking was (E) control and structure. Instead of focusing on my strengths and how Unilever could benefit from these, I had to cut back on what I was really good at and work hard on my so-called ‘development points’. So basically I had to try to become somebody else. And despite all the talk about diversity, the corporate system basically creates average people.

A worrying amount of people around me confess that they are not really happy. They have a high level on the status ladder: a “good” job (eg high up in the management hierarchy), partner plus well-behaved children, big car, beautiful house. Despite all this, they are finding they are lacking ‘something’ – I think it might be ‘value’. But they don’t dare to get out anymore: “I have a high mortgage, all my life is set up according to my high salary; I can’t just quit”…

Do you have similar experiences? Did you also find yourself, or people around you, trapped on the status ladder? What did you/ they do? Please share in the comments!

Ritalin helps to comply with the system?

I’m deeply concerned by the amount of children who are diagnosed as having a ‘problem’: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, even ‘gifted’ (hoogbegaafd in Dutch). It is a good thing that there is greater interest in the fact that every child is ‘unique’ and deserves its own learning trajectory. But diagnosing 10-25% of children with a “problem” is deeply worrying, especially if children receive medication like Ritalin to make them perform better at school – e.g. be more calm, quiet and concentrated during lessons.
I am convinced we should not look at the problems children have (they might even start to believe that they are a ‘problem child’), but instead look at all their possibilities – and facilitate them in getting more out of themselves than they ever imagined.

[box] A cousin of a friend of mine has always had an amazing talent for drawing. She could visualize all her thoughts and express herself in a fantastic way. She is what you may call a ‘visual thinker’ (‘beelddenker’ in Dutch). However, the moment she went to school, problems started. She was not allowed to make drawings anymore for more than 10 minutes a day. Her pencils were taken away and she had to write words instead. She transformed from being a happy child into a ‘problem child’. Now at age 11 she is taking Ritalin and her parents say that her school results are improving: she is now more calm and concentrated. Which is also why her parents are supportive of using Ritalin: her school results improve, which is “in her best interest”.[/box]

This example makes me so mad, sad and frustrated. We are even prepared to use medication to put children into our standardized system. While the unique talents of this child could be of great value: people who are able to express their thoughts in visuals instead of words are much more valuable in today’s visually oriented society. But simply because we have no standardized means to assess these qualities, we try to limit them and instead develop other skills – which are not her natural ones.

I have also heard that the long term effect of Ritalin has proven to be in the same destructive category as Prozac. If you have backing (or countering) material, I’d love to receive it.

I have also heard that ‘problem’ children have proven to be behaving and performing x% worse than ‘normal’ children, and y% worse than ‘gifted’ children. Even when the labels were switched (the ‘gifted’ became ‘problem’), this effect was measured. If you have backing material for these, I’d also love to receive them.

In the past months, parents have shared very many of such stories with me. Please share yours underneath the blog post on this subject.

CONNECT: part 1 of the Action Plan

The massive amount of reactions on my TED talk showed me three things:

  • Wow, so much is already happening/ done/ figured out – this needs to be shared.
  • I can’t be the only one who is interested but unaware of all these initiatives.
  • To really make an impact, we need to join forces. A very big movement is necessary.

We need to get together, share what works and discuss how to overcome barriers. Each one of us can create a ripple effect, all of us together create a Tsunami.

I would like to propose three form factors:

  1. Offline (face to face, events)
  2. Online (web environment)
  3. Informal – (bi-)weekly gatherings

Please click the links to find more details about the plans.

SHAPE: part 2 of the Action Plan

I firmly believe that we should look at value, defined by how happy you are (because you do things that matter to you) and how much you contribute to society (including your own family or friends) – making use of your own strengths and talents.

What if we could let go of everything education is about right now, if we could start anew:

  • What are the skills and knowledge needed in the world of today and tomorrow? What would children need to learn (until age 18)? [Is it ‘advanced maths’, or rather ‘learn to develop your own path’, ‘learn to become valuable – economically & socially, and get more out of yourself than you’d ever imagine’?]
  • How can they best learn [based on their specific needs, talents, learning styles]?
  • What is needed to facilitate this? [what technology, what kind of facilitators or teachers, buildings etc]
  • How can this be scaled, so that everybody has access to (this new type of) Education?
  • How can it be financed? [Are subsidies needed, or can it be viable on its own? Can 3rd parties provide a solution?]
  • How can it be quickly implemented/ rolled out? [Do national governments need to approve, which can take years, or can it be done differently?]
  • How can quality be assured? [Do we need standardized tests, can you assess differently? Is this still necessary, do the results speak for itself?]

I want to create a ‘charter’ from this, a 1- or 2-pager with starting points. These will become my ‘stick in the ground’, my compass direction for the coming years. It will also help to concentrate all the energy and initiatives – if we all look at the same thing and are not distracted by semantics, we can make this bigger and bigger. It also helps to spread the message if it is clear, compact and achievable.

I will ask the questions above to several people and groups around me, curious to see if these views will differ or not.

Please also share your own thoughts, in the comments below, by mail, through Facebook, Twitter or any other channel that suits you.