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The Tree - A Metaphor for Learning

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by sachman75: http://flickr.com/photos/sacharules/7431640808

I remember in Year Four Ms. Bates teaching us about how trees grew. She explained that they reach to the sun and it is for that reason that they are not always straight. I am sure there is more to it than this, but Ms. Bates story really stuck with me, maybe because of its simplicity, but I think because it completely changed the way that I looked at the world around me. Thinking about it today makes me think that learning might be the same.

I remember when my wife and I moved into our house we planted a series of lilly pillies down the side of property. The thought was that they would provide some screening and a bit more privacy. Clearly we weren't going to let them grow to their potential height of 100 metres as the tag suggested that they could in their natural surroundings, rather we would mould and shape them. As a plant, they are not only hardy, but they grow relatively straight and never lose their foliage. 
Since planting them, it has been interesting watching them grow. The first thing that I learnt was that they were not all the same stock, with two distinct different types, while one seems to have an ailment which affects the leaves, meaning that although it continues to grow, the leaves often curl up and bubble. 

Initially we staked the trees to support them, but also to make sure that they all looked the same. It did not take long for the trees at the end of property to outgrow their supports. Whether it be due to the quality of soil, the fall of the land or direct access to both the morning and evening sun, they both prospered quickly.

In regards to the other trees, they have each travelled their own journey. Growing ever so slowly, with some even giving up the ghost. They would often depend on additional support. No matter how much fertilizer I have given them, how many times I have pruned them in the hope of spurring on new growth, provided them with additional water, they continue to develop at their pace, in their own way, although each looking similar, but also each looking different in their own ways. No matter how much I tried to shape them, they still manage to do their own thing.

I think that in some respect learning is comparable with the growth of a tree. Too often we wonder why students are not straight and elegant, that they don't learn in the prescribed manner. Too often we only recognise the trunk, when in fact many trees have numerous branches in order to help them prosper, some even without any discernible trunk at all. 

In an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew+Alec Couros made the suggestion that to think about MOOC's in regards to drop-outs and success rates, fails to recognise all of the other learning that we don't always recognise. In the same way, trying to control, manage and structure learning can stifle the potential and possibility. Although a garden may look nice and suit our own purposes, a forest has little constraint and allows the world to blossom to its full potential.

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