One of the most useful things that we can all do is to be willing to continue learning throughout our lives. As Henry Ford said;
Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. -
The best way for adults to learn is thankfully different to how most of us did it at school. The way adults learn best is by learning to their experiences. This is generally called experiential learning. There are a number of models for experiential learning. We have tried to keep the idea simple and call it the Learning Spiral.
The Learning Spiral
The learning spiral is a natural cycle we go through to make sense of something that has happened and wish to do it better next time. This approach to learning can be applied to many aspects of our lives and is especially helpful in improving how we relate to and interact with other people.
In our diagram we start by doing something that provides us with an experience for us to work with. In the context of maintaining or restoring relations, this might be a single interaction with another person or a series of interactions. We might come away from these interactions and think 'that didn't go well'. That's when we move on to the reflection stage.
Reflection is when we look at what happened and try to make sense of it.
How you reflect is a personal thing and there is no one right way to do it. It can be simply considering something that happened, sharing with another person, writing about it, or using drawing. At its most basic level reflecting involves asking yourself two main questions about an experience;
- What stood out for me?
- What will I do differently next time?
A general reflective process
The two basic questions can be extended to provide a process for reflection. The common questions that make up the process are;
- What happened?
- What were you thinking at the time?
- What did you feel at the time?
- What do you think now?
- How do you feel now?
- What caused the situation to happen?
- What have you learned?
- What will you do differently next time?
Conflict specific reflection questions
- What happened?
- How did you feel about what happened?
- What did you notice about yourself?
- How did you react or respond?
- What caused you to react or respond in a particular way?
- What did you notice about how other people reacted or responded?
- What were your options to respond?
- What might have been the consequences of your response?
- What have you learnt?
- How might you respond to the same situation in future?
- Exactly what might you say?
- How could you rehearse this situation?
Ways of reflecting
Reflecting can be done in a number of ways;
- Quietly asking your self the questions
- Writing answers to the questions
- Drawing a diagram representing the experience
- Working through the questions in pairs
The understand stage is where we look for alternative or better ways to do something. This is often when we think there is a gap in our knowledge or skills. We look to sources outside of ourselves to gain understanding. This might be from the internet, books or people who know more than ourselves.
Having expanded our understanding to fill the gaps in our knowledge we can then plan how we might do something different when we encounter a similar situation in the future.
Applying a little stretch
We represent experiential learning as a spiral, rather than a circle, because often when learning some thing new we need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. It is easy for us to simply continue doing exactly the same things over and over again. This will feel comfortable but it limits our learning and personal growth. As Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said;
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. -
Another way of looking at it may be 'if you do the same, you get the same'.
Applying a little stretch is a bit like undergoing physiotherapy in two ways;
- you know that it is likely to be uncomfortable but in the long run it will help you recover from an injury
- be careful not to overdo it - if you overdo it you might cause yourself further injury
We've presented the stages of the learning spiral in a specific way - Do, Reflect, Understand. In real life things are rarely as simple as that. You may well not start with doing. You may start at the Understand stage because you read something that sparks an idea of how to do something differently. Having done something, you might go to the Understand stage before using that information to reflect on your experiences. There is no single right way - only the way that works best for you in a given situation.