By Nandini Jammi
If you were lucky when you were a kid, you went to a Montessori school.
You learned by doing. You were encouraged to touch ask questions, to fail early and often. You were taught to do more than you were expected to. You were given a little guidance and encouragement and figure out the rest. And this is when you were four years old.
There are two really strong cases for learning this way. One is called Sergey Brin and the other is Larry Page.
Both Larry and Sergey credit their hands-on Montessori education for building the foundation for their tendency to act and do, rather than passively accept information. (Other notable Montessori alum includeAmazon’s Jeff Bezos, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and the illustrious P.Diddy.)
Montessori schools operate on a distinctive set of principles that are rather generous towards little people.
“The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child,” outlined Dr.Montessori in her handbook.
Students at Montessori schools were sent into what she referred to as “the prepared environment”:
Montessori believed that children learn best in a prepared environment, a place in which children can do things for themselves. The prepared environment makes learning materials and experiences available to children in an orderly format. Classrooms Montessori described are really what educators advocate when they talk about child-centered education and active learning. Freedom is the essential characteristic of the prepared environment. Since children within the environment are free to explore materials of their own choosing, they absorb what they find there. Maria Montessori was a master at creating environments for young children that enabled them to be independent, active, and learn.
I know we’re all adults here, but doesn’t this sound freaking awesome?
I went to a Montessori for a few years, and when I finally went to a "normal" school, I was reading through two grade levels ahead and writing cursive. It was a little confusing to see my peers struggling to read one line at a time.
Why? Because at my Montessori, I was given an exercise to complete (usually sensory or tactile, like gift wrapping a box or stringing together a new word out of wooden letters) and left to my own devices. My pace, my way.
I’m not here to argue that you should send your kids to a Montessori. I’m saying that’s how you should be approaching learning now.
This isn’t a kids-only approach. It’s for big people too.
There is a strong case for throwing employees into a job sans training:
One of the places where real life learning takes place is in the workplace, "on the job." The reason for this seems simple enough. Humans are natural learners. They learn from everything they do. When they watch television, they learn about the day's events. When they take a trip, they learn about how to get where they are going and what it is like to be there. [What We Learn When We Learn By Doing]
This constant learning also takes place as one works. If you want an employee to learn his job, then, it stands to reason that the best way is to simply let him do his job.
You do your best work on the job when you’re set up with a challenge, freedom and a little basic guidance.
Passive learning is falling to the wayside because it’s not how we do acquire knowledge in real life.
Shouldn’t all training be active like that? Does it matter if we’re kids or adults?
There are a few companies that do a mega impressive job of onboarding: Hubspot with their academy, Slack with their Slackbot, and Trello with their Trello board. Forget that they’re fun - they’re effective.
They understand that documentation won’t help anyone get good at their products.
And yet, it’s still accepted practice to throw a wiki manual at the onboarding and training process. Or even more notoriously, offer no onboarding at all.
These successful companies we love do something very Montessori-like. They lay out concrete goals, give them the tools they need to learn at their own pace, and introduce new tasks as they become relevant to their users.
Is there any other way to learn?
Oh yes, this.