Learning Philosophy

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. Albert Einstein

Warby, W. (2013). Leaves [Photo]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/, CC-BY 2.0

I had a lot of time over the last week to think about learning, and what makes it happen. Spending a week on a Carnival cruise to say goodbye to my sister was far from relaxing and peaceful. But I loved being able to take some time to observe how the crew of a Carnival ship works together on the cruise line. Exceptional customer service is a requirement for all the staff on the cruise ship. On a typical seven day cruise, the crew deals with around 4,000 passengers.The crew is expected to know the guests by name, and they do.They are expected to remember little things about the guests… What are their dietary requirements? What does each guest drink with dinner? Do they prefer a specific kind of bread? Of course they have a database where they can note some of these little things, particularly with regard to dietary requirements of the guests. But what motivates the crew to maintain the level of service that they do? How do they remember little details about each guest? And is that really learning?

How does learning happen?

While on my cruise last week, I learned that each crew member spends at least one week each year in customer service training. But training and rote memorisation will not ensure that the crew can recall little details about 4,000-plus guests that change weekly. So what happens each week to allow the crew members to remember names and details about 4,000 guests?

I know that in the cruise ship example, the employees have access to a database of all guests, that includes a photograph of each guest. But what helps them to remember those little details about the guests when they are away from that database? I guess everyone has some memory trick that has helped them remember details… mnemonics… a song… flash cards… Learning is a very personal experience. In order to learn, each learner must make their own connections. In some situations, incentives and rewards can help to inspire learning. As children begin the process of lifelong learning, learning is play. As they move through school, a reward system is used to incentivise learning, and sadly in some cases a system of punishment enforced for those who struggle. As adults, our learning continues, often incentivised to a degree by income. However for most of us, we continue to learn outside of our incentives driven jobs. So are the crew members driven by the promise of tips? Or is it something else?  As someone who tries to take a cruise vacation each year, I can say that I see crew members from previous cruises that still remember that I prefer unsweetened iced tea, and even that on my favourite dessert night, my meal will consist of a Caprese Salad. Clearly, the ship employees are able to make some connection that helps them to remember the information they need.

The Relationship between teaching and learning

Thinking back to my post about Creating Significant Learning Environments, I think think that one thing that makes a difference is a connection between the learner and the instructor. How engaged is the instructor with the learners throughout the process? In his blog post Learning Philosophy, Harapnuik refers to himself as a “learning facilitator,” adding that:

The saying “sage on the stage” is extremely appropriate in this context. In contrast, a learning facilitator is focused on the learner and on creating a desirable environment in which the learner can come to know, acquire knowledge or make a meaningful connection–“a guide on the side.”

Serving as a “guide on the side” may seem less engaging, but in the example from the Andy Griffith Show, the teacher was less engaged, trying to act as the “sage on the stage” with the learners. By creating a learning environment that brought in elements of adventure and intrigue and bringing history to life, Sheriff Taylor was able to create a thirst for more knowledge among the children, making them want to read more about the history of the American Revolution. He guided the learners through a tale… a story… helping them to make a connection between history and something meaningful to them… horses… intrigue… guns… excitement!

Though customer service training on a cruise ship is completely different than a history lesson for a group of 8 year old boys, there are still elements that are similar. The learner must be able to make personal connection in order to really learn. The learners must have something to which they can relate the learning experiences, making them personally applicable… memorable.

The cruise ship industry applies more of a behaviourist approach (learning is reinforced through systems of rewards and consequences) to learning with regard to training their crew members. Because of the technological nature of that environment, and because in that environment data becomes obsolete so quickly, we can also apply a connectivist approach to learning to the way their crew members learn and the way they structure their training activities. The expectation is that the customer service standards will be met by the crew members; these customer service standards include memorisation and recall of details about each guest. Through stringent training, and through the use of memory tricks and a comprehensive database, crew members “learn” the details about their guests. Positive behaviours (learning how to remember the details of each guest) are rewarded in that the crew members are paid for their work and eventually considered for advancement. Negative behaviours (inability to remember and regurgitate those details) result in consequences that may include additional training requirements, reprimands, changes to positions that are less desirable, and eventually loss of employment. (Behaviourism.) But the data changes so frequently (usually weekly), so the crew relies heavily on technology to ensure that they have access to the information they need for each guest. But still the crew members are expected to greet guests by  name and remember details about them, a feat that can only be successful if the crew members are able to quickly make connections that are meaningful, and have the capacity to learn and retain that data. (Connectivism.)

So what’s the difference between teaching philosophy and learning philosophy?

To identify the difference between a teaching philosophy and learning philosophy, we should consider how we learn ourselves. In his article Six Questions that Will Bring Your Teaching Philosophy into Focus, Dr Neil Haave discusses his desire to “create learning environments that are fertile ground for those sorts of ‘aha!’ moments for my students.” For my courses and workshops, I want that type of fertile grounds too. I want to be able to guide my learners through their processes of discovery and connection, with opportunity for application and practice throughout. Learning should should adapt to the needs of the learners, so it should be constantly evolving and growing. From this I think the main differences between a traditional teaching philosophy and a learning philosophy is the engagement of the learners. To me, “teaching philosophy” is teacher/content centered, while “learning philosophy” is more student centered.

What about ME as a learner?

I know that with regard to learning I am no different from those 8 year olds or from the cruise ship employees. Like them, in order for something to become meaningful, I must be able to relate it to something in my life. In his blog post entitled Educational Development Philosophy, Dr Harapnuik discusses leading by example, using Ghandi’s quote on being “the change you want to see.” As a learner, I want to see the behaviour modeled. And this feeds directly into the way that I construct professional development opportunities for our faculty. In developing learning experiences and professional development for faculty members I find it critical to model those behaviours we want to instill in our faculty. I love the concept of leading by example in this way, and I try to create courses and workshops that model those vital behaviours.

I also know that providing opportunities for the learners to practice and apply what they are learning will help to strengthen the connection they are making. In the courses that we have taken in this program, we are provided lots of examples from the educators themselves, but also from other learners. But the opportunity to apply and reflect on each concept has been critical to the learning process. This has really emphasised the importance of eportfolios as a tool that serves not only as a repository for program artifacts, but more importantly as a too that helps learners gauge their own growth.

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

John Dewey

I think that the learner-centered philosophy I am most drawn to is the constructivist theory of  John Dewey, whereby the learner takes ownership of the learning by making meaningful connections from his/her own life, and essentially creating or constructing their own learning. We typically do not learn in a vacuum, and often though we have a “teacher” much of what we learn is from our peers. I think of learning as social experience, so I am drawn to the social development theories of Lev Vygotsky. In Vygotsky’s theory, we see learners gleaning experience from others around them. Vygotsky believed that children learn first socially, then internalise that learning through application and reflection. When learning occurs in a social environment, educators roles are more focused on learning than on classroom management, and learners are better able to work together and collaborate, skills that are transferrable to learners’ lives outside of the educational environment (Watkins, 2005).


As an educator, I need to be a facilitator and guide for my learners, providing them opportunities to interact with others that have different levels of experience, knowledge, and skills to help them make connections that are relevant and meaningful to them. In order to reinforce the learning connections, learners must have opportunities to practice application of new knowledge.

Annotated Bibliography (Link to annotated sources used for this article)


David, L., (2007). “Behaviorism.” Learning Theories, January 31, 2007. Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/behaviorism.html.

Foroux, D. (2018). The active mindset: A sure way to avoid all boredom with life. Retrieved from https://dariusforoux.com/?s=passive+mindset.

Haave, N., Keus, K., & Simpson, T. (2018). A learning philosophy assignment positively impacts student learning outcomes. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, 11, 42–64. Retrieved from http://outlaw.odessa.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1182843&site=eds-live

Haave, N. (2014). Six questions that will bring your teaching philosophy into focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/six-questions-will-bring-teaching-philosophy-focus/.

Harapnuik, D. Educational development philosophy [web log]. Retrieved from http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=4639

Harapnuik, D. Learning philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=95

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm

Taylor, E., & Cranton, P. (2012). The handbook of transformative learning: Theory, research, and practice.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Warby, W. (2013). Leaves [Photo]. Retrieved from Flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0.

Watkins, C. (2005). Classrooms as learning communities: What’s in it for schools? New York, NY: Routledge.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.