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Learning or e-learning?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 2 May 2013, 05:29

If you could study full time at a college where there are only 30 students - all the same year group, and you work in teams of two or three - would you?

This 'college' has 500 mentors - people 'from industry' who come in as volunteers so that several times a week, if not most afternoons, the students have experienced people to listen and learn from how does this benefit the learning process? Is it 'learning from the periphery' when the 'centre' comes to you? It is socially-constructed, and cognitive?

How does this contrast and compare with 'learning at a distance' 'old school' with a box of books and DVDs or here on the MA ODE with everything online?

As a mentor at the School of Communication Arts, London I go in to sit with pairs of students for anything between 15 minutes and an hour. I listen. I try to be a sounding board and catalyst. I try to motivate. I refuse to judge or infect/impose myself, rather helping them to draw their own conclusions.

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Picture of Sharif Al-Rousi

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Interested to hear more about your role Jonathan. How is your input received?
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I'm at their mercy. I can find it dawnting if I feel they won't want me to 'sit in with them'. I know when I was the student in this position I was hopelessly bad at sharing, exposing ideas or taking constructive criticism - I've changed. I think there are 14 pairs of students. In a typical afternoon 2.00pm to 5.30pm I will see 6-8 pairs. My approach is, 'would you like me to sit with you for a while?' They may say 'yes', or 'not yet' ... or give me that look that says 'are you mad?' I then pull up between them. All creative teams are pairs. Historically they used to be an art director and copywriter - this distinction is far more fluid but the two person team is sacrosanct. It works.

Various 'Creative Briefs' are in play. Teams have two weeks to understand, research and come up with ideas. They present the ideas as they would in an advertising agency to a client. I took 15 minutes to read through three briefs and take notes. Windeaze, Rennie and Odoreaters. Classic student briefs. A clear problem, an apparently obvious solution to this problem.

I got the 'come back in an hour' from team 1, the 'are you mad?' from team two and 'yes' from team 3. I was with them for nearly an hour. Like a therapist (I know about cognitive therapy), I pose open questions inviting them to engage. I then listen intensely, like an audio recorder. I get a sense of how they go about things. I try very hard not to indicate that I think they are wrong ... though I suppose the give away is that I do encourage and enthuse over what is working. Often there are some really exciting pieces of work. Always there is a stand out team who 'get it' every time.

They take me through their responses to the brief and share their feelings for what they think is right or wrong. Generally I find they need to nurture the idea, push it further, clarify its expression and get the attention of a specific audience, and have something that is appropriate for the multiple platforms they now have. Without exception I find that during these conversations they say some line or express a thought that they need to hold onto and work with - I point it out. When I have 'a thought' I resist jumping in - rather I see if through further 'investigation' they stumbleupon this as well. There is an inner smile in me when this happens, especially if they bubble up with enthusiasm. It has to be THEIR idea, not mine. Their resistance to my imposing ideas would be understandable and correct.

The team who wanted an hour turned out to be stars. They were very uncertain of me, perhaps that I would spoil their work or knock them over, instead I think I gave them the support and encouragement they needed - if they didn't have it already, to be confident about what they were coming up with. The do that wonderful thing of taking the complex, capturing something simple, and expressing it in a way where I think 'why has no one else thought of that before?'.

My struggle, and I need to address it, is where I think they have gone so far off track and so deep into their error I cannot see how to bring them back. I might be wrong. Like a psychologist I do think that sometimes their 'feelings' or sense of an idea is right, like going doing a labyrnth and being lost ... but the answer is on the other side of the hedge or wall they are standing next to. I try therefore to get to the essence of what they have and they may flip it. Where it doesn't work is where clearly one person in the team of two is disengaged, or 'rewriting the brief'. I've been there, 'rewriting the brief' until you are talking to one person on the planet and will successfully sell ONE pair or packet of the product for that reason.

As an 'educator' I am very conscious of the process and my role, of the interplay between us all - me as catalyst, if interventionist at all, better as enabler. I try not to get into conversations about my career, other than to say that a year on this course sets you up for a creative, industry based career in 'communications/advertising or design' or variants on this. ie. solving problems with creative ideas and executions on a variety of platforms to influence, sell products, change minds, build brands, expand ideas ...