Learning Strategies for Successful Change

'Multiplication Rap & a Bee'

13 March 2023
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
Short stories with key learning points for personal development and professional development. Often to make you smile, and always to make you think.
Why learning strategies matter, and may be more important than either motivation or discipline in creating personal – and immediate - success and effective and sustainable organisational change

A bumble bee is trapped inside a room. It can see freedom outside, through the window, which is closed. The bee heads for (makes a beeline for?) the window, and crashes into the window pane, and falls to the windowsill, dazed. Catching its breath, it dusts down its wings, flies off the sill, circles the room, and once more hurls itself into the window pane – with the same results.

Further along the room was another window – open.

Danny was struggling to learn his multiplication tables. The school’s strategy was to provide them and leave each student to it. Danny found learning lists too taxing and boring, and gave up easily. Danny insisted he couldn’t learn them, and was becoming increasingly frustrated and demoralised, as he fell behind his friends. I noticed there was nothing wrong with his memory, particularly when it came to singing along to pop songs. He was particularly interested in ‘rap’, chanting along to the beat….and this gave me an idea…..

I got some friends to make me a ‘rap’ instrumental, and I dubbed over the top the multiplication tables, leaving space for Danny to join in.

Yes, very cheesy. But he had the multiplication tables nailed within a fortnight.

People might be written off as ‘poor learners’ when in fact all they need is a different learning strategy.

People might be written off as ‘poor learners’ when in fact all they need is a different learning strategy.

There are several take aways from this story:

  • Why strategy matters
  • Persistence doesn’t always pay
  • Different learning approaches matter
  • Change can be quick and easy to sustain

Why strategy matters

In bot stories, the bee and Danny were trapped by using a strategy that just wouldn’t work for them. An alternative strategy would have worked for the bee, and did work for Danny. Too often, from school (and parenting) onwards, we are set goals – even SMART goals, and then encouraged to work out an action plan to achieve those goals. But strategy is often neglected – and can be the missing link. Too often motivation and discipline are the key focus, but if, as in these two cases, the strategy is wrong, then all the motivation and discipline in the world won’t be enough.

Persistence doesn’t always pay

We are often encouraged, even required, to ‘stick at it’, to persist. And there’s no doubt that sustained effort can pay off – under certain circumstances. But as the bee found when flying against a window pane, no amount of persistence, determination or effort will make the slightest difference – other than reinforce a sense of failure. Danny also attributed lack of success to personal failure: because he was prepared to put in the effort, to work hard, and yet was unable to succeed – then it must be about him, and his personal inability to succeed. How many people ‘fail’ despite their full on efforts and determination – and as a result, regard themselves as a failure, when perhaps a change of strategy was all that was required?

Different learning approaches matter

Do you know how you learn – and how you learn best? Have you ever considered, or tried, different ways of learning? Too often we are ‘taught’ how to learn, without any concern or consideration as to whether that way is the best for you or not. At school I took notes as I’d been taught – writing on paper from the top left to the bottom right, in narrative form – becoming dictation notes from the teacher. Then my history teacher, Mr Selina – took me to one side and showed me how to put my notes under headings, which would act as a sort for revision and essay writing. This totally transformed how I took notes, how I learned, and was I think a major contributor to my educational success.

Change can be quick and easy to sustain

There’s a common view that creating effective change – particularly if it involves changing a habit – is going to be slow and hard work. And if that is a general assumption about a particular change, it may be (perhaps unconsciously) one of the reasons not to invest in the change. (This is, incidentally, one of the contributions to the fixed mindset: any change will be too difficult – whereas staying with things as they are are at least easy and comfortable). Yet as Danny’s experience shows, the change was not only successful, but almost immediate. In fact it demonstrates the reverse of the standard assumption. In his case, it was the continuing approach that was difficult and uncomfortable, whereas the change, as soon as it was introduced, was appealing and quick – very quick. And because of this, because the benefits were so clear, then there was every reason to continue with that approach to make it embedded and sustained, as his triumph over his mum 30 years later shows.

The key to learning is often finding the right learning strategy for that individual. 
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
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