The relationship between learner and teacher is unequal. The teacher has authority because they are the holder of knowledge. As Audrey Watters has said, the learner has to admit to their own vulnerability in order to learn. They have to accept the superior knowledge of the teacher in order to benefit from the learning transaction.

But is it only the learner who should be in a position of vulnerability? For the teacher/trainer/facilitator to be a co-learner, to be open to exploring new ideas and generating new knowledge, surely they need to be vulnerable too? And if so, how can a trainer/facilitator balance their position of authority with this openness and vulnerability? Jonathan Worth and I explored this idea.

Lizzie Evans

You’ve said previously that in order to learn you have to make yourself vulnerable. My experience in teaching/facilitating roles is that I had to be secure in feeling vulnerable myself. I had to be able to admit when I didn’t know something when I was asked a question; and to be able to, if somebody suggested something completely left field in interpretation, be able to take that in, deal with it, and respond to it very quickly. So I always felt that as a teacher I had a level of vulnerability in not knowing what I was going to get thrown at me at any time.

6m
LE
JW
Jonathan Worth

I empathise with that 100%. And I think that’s exactly what the best teachers do: they acknowledge that they don’t know everything. And if someone throws a question at you and you don’t know it… I guess there are situations in which politicians must face this all the time. When they don’t know the answer, and they should know the answer. That must be an awful situation to be in. For me, just as your describing there, that was the most exciting part. I mean, that’s a really great question, how do we go about answering that? Sugata Mitra has based his entire learning philosophy on that: self-organised learning. He says he throws the question out there and expects people to organise and learn themselves, to solve it themselves. So I think those moments, for me, and for you by the sounds of it, those things are exciting, because you are going to learn with everyone else right there. But I can understand why people would feel threatened by those situations. Of course, those people also are the ones who resist most strongly teaching and learning with the web, with the open classroom. As the classroom gets larger, it’s always going to know more than you.

5m
Lizzie Evans

There were times when my students would very obviously believe anything I told them. To a point that gets quite scary, because you are in that position of authority. I told them a stupid joke, and none of them responded, and I thought ‘I hope they didn’t think that was serious’. It may have just fallen flat, but it was a case of I really hope they don’t go and write that in their essays. They would believe what I said. There is a great responsibility with that. You have to think about what you say, and then when they turn round and ask a question you don’t know the answer to, what does that mean for your position? I think, in the end, it gives you a better position because you are saying, look I’m in this with you, we’re exploring this together.

4m
LE
JW
Jonathan Worth

Absolutely.

3m
Lizzie Evans

But the first time you have to do that is quite terrifying, because you think ‘oh no what if they all just ignore me from now on!?’ It feels like a big step, a risk. So I think there is a mutual vulnerability on both sides.

2m
LE
JW
Jonathan Worth

I think you’re absolutely right. If you are going to push the class into a space where you are not entirely secure, so you are co-learning with them, you’re really pushing at the edges of the envelope if you will, that’s when people are getting maximum from it. And the other thing is people will be really motivated if they are part of the solution rather than just being fed a product. We know this, just from generally how people are motivated. So if you say ‘hey, I’m not quite sure of the answer to this, we need to come to that solution together’, then you are valuing that participant, and valuing what they say, and their input, and that is hugely empowering. I mean, that’s when teaching and learning becomes really exciting, that’s when you get the good stuff. Out of that insecurity is where you get the really good stuff. I think it is entirely fine and appropriate to feel a little bit insecure and on the edge. Otherwise you’re not learning.

1m

Lizzie Evans - Learning Consultant, Rhizome Live

Share This: