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Learning in extremis

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Jul 2012, 18:13
My wife went into labour at 2.30am, we'd planned a home birth (this is her second) however our hospital was some 37 miles away and our allocated Midwife was another 20 miles beyond that. SHe spoke to my wife betweenp contractions – she wouldn't make it. Call an ambulance and she'd be over in due course.

"Emergency Home Birth!" my wife exclaimed pointing at a book on pregnancy and childbirth.

Chapter six looked like it needed half an hour to read and the same again to digest; there wasn't time. Thankfully om the facing page of Chapter six the editor had laid out the essentials in clear bullet points – towels, scissors and string are the ones I remember, probably because I required all three, these and the reminder that the umbiliacal cord can get caught around the baby's throat.

And so it was, at around 3.20am, my wife on all fours at the end of the bed, towels in place that our son was born. First his head, the umbiliacal chord wrapped tightly around his throat. I eased this over his chin and around his head, surprised at how thick and tough it was – then one,the both shoulders and he feel into my arms like a muddy rugby ball out of a scrum. My wife rolled around and sitting at the end of the bed she took him into her arms.

A few minutes later the midwife arrived, thought everything was going well and went to run a bath. In due course she showed me how to cut the umbilliacal cord then took my wife to the bathroom.

Learning in extremis? I didn't need a book, or a training video and given this was 1996 I wasn't going to have Google, Quora or YouTube offer some advice.

I've had no further need for these particular parenting skills, though it's been an adventure following two infants through childhood into their early teens.

Learning works best when it is pished, when there is a challenge of time and circumstances, where it can be applied and seen to work.

How do we apply this to formal education, to stuyding for exams through secondary and tertiary education? What is the difference with learning in the workforce, between physical actions on a factory floor, in a mine, power station or warehouse, out on a civil engineering building site or in an office or boardroom?

There need to be exams – from mocks to annual exams and finals.

Essays and regualr assignments are part of this best practice. And how about tests, even the surprise test, not so much for the result, but for the pressure that ought to help fix some learning in our plastic, fickle minds?

In advertising we often spoke of 'testing to destruction' that nothing beats a clear demonstration of the products power, staying power or effectiveness in memorably extreme conditions.

I like the idea of working Against the clock, of competition too, even learning taken place, as I have heard, as someone cycles around Europe, or drives a Russian Jeep from Kazikstan back to Britain.

I believe in the view that 'it'll be alright on the night' – that you can galvanise a group to rally round when needed and those new to this game will pick up a great deal in the process; personally I loved the all nighters we did in our teens breaking one set then building another in the Newcastle Playhouse, some sense of which I repeated professionally on latae night and all night shoots, often in 'extreme' places.

Then there's another kind of learning extreme - pscking it in - QA on 240 links or proofing eight 40 frame PowerPoint e-learning wireframes.

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Bren P

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Does there need to be exams? No-one rushed out and told you to halt when delivering your child, as you hadn't taken a test, yet you proved yourself perfectly competent.

I see exams as being part of a Western social construct. It is beyond acceptable to give a certificate to someone who can prove their ability yet not be able to read & write.

Is it right that a person can excel in all areas of their specialism, bar physically sitting an exam, and be prevented from ever progressing further?

Exams favour the neuro-typical and can oppress the rest.

I never got pass the 2nd level in my BAGA (gymnastics) as I could neither do the splits nor an unsupported handstand. My teachers had nightmares about my attempts, and my progression stopped there. Still p'd off and that was nearly 40 years ago tongueout

OU Student

Many thanks for this. You're absolutely right exams are a crude tool and inappropriate in many cases.