What does it take to remember something?

Deja vu, etc. etc.
Deja vu, etc. etc.

I am going to have to profess a certain degree of bemusement here. On this blog, we talk about the value of active learning, not least by making students become active participants in their learning environment, they are more likely to appreciate and internalise the learning they do, as compared to in a passive set-up.

To take a (non-random) example, a few weeks ago in class, we had a great learning moment about perceptions and how we need to work with them. I even wrote a blog piece about it, because it struck me rather forcibly at the time.

At the time, I didn’t tell you about what actually happened, but in essence some of the students decided they needed to step out of the room to have a private conclave, but by the time they had come back, everyone else had turned on them. There was much recrimination back and forth, not least about needing to respect the views and status of others.

Basically, it was the big thing of that class.

So here’s the kicker. In this week’s class, we had an almost identical situation. One group – the provisional government in a DDR game – took themselves off for five minutes towards the end of negotiations to sort out their position. Upon returning, every other group had decided they weren’t being any help, first calling in the UN (me) to oversee discussions and then the army mounting a coup against them.

We talked about this in the debrief and it was very striking that even though everyone remembered the previous incident, the group in question still stuck to their view of the gameplay – why do they hate us/where did that come from? – and appeared to have as much difficulty as the other groups did last time around.

I asked those directly involved last time about this – none of them were involved this time – and they all said they’d seen what was happening and let it happen, because it suited their various agendas. In their case, I’m inclined to believe they have learnt that lesson. But the others? I’m really not sure that they had. Until now.

To have such an obvious failure of process, and then to repeat it in relatively short order, strikes me as odd, precisely because it goes against much of my experience with using simulations, especially in this module.

What it does tell us is that we have to be very careful indeed about what assumptions we make about learning, whatever we do. Just because we talk about something, doesn’t mean it’s learnt – something we all know from our last lecture – but it’s also true that just because students experience something, also doesn’t mean it’s learnt.

How we deal with that is a big challenge and one I’d welcome your thoughts and input on.

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