Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

2 Learning trajectories

Whether you are learning for yourself or supporting others to learn, learning does not occur as a straight progression – it is often viewed as a process that contains growth, peaks, troughs and plateaus (Atherton, 2013a). You might have reflected a little on this in Activity 1, especially as you considered inhibitors to learning. Atherton (2013a) depicts a typical learning curve in Figure 1.

Described image
Figure 1 A typical learning trajectory

Such a curve is probably easier to plot out for the large skills learnt during life, although a similar pattern would probably emerge if we were to examine in microscopic detail the learning from the many small skills that we constantly engage in.

This illustration of the learning curve immediately took me back many years when I was learning to drive. I remember starting with so much confidence and enthusiasm – grasping and running with every suggestion that my instructor offered and making tremendous progress in the early weeks. I also remember struggling with hill starts and becoming very frustrated because I could not master this skill. To this day I still avoid driving in areas that require hill starts if possible. I believed I had reached the peak of my confidence and was performing competently when I entered my driving test only to have hopes dashed when I failed the test at the first attempt. Having to pick myself up and rekindle the earlier enthusiasm and confidence was essential in order to prepare for a subsequent test (this time successful!). During the development of that skill I could identify with all stages of the depiction above – the fast and slow learning, and the peaks, plateaus and troughs.

The following activity allows you to plot out your learning against such a curve.

Activity 2 My learning curve

Allow 15 minutes

In your notebook, and using one of the selected learning activities that you explored in Activity 1, draw a graph with time on the x-axis and competence on the y-axis, as shown in Figure 1. Next plot out your learning as you developed increasing competence in the intervention. Focus on all aspects of this learning curve, i.e. any upward trajectories, plateaus, troughs and declines in the learning that occurred.

What pattern emerged?


Your diagram is likely to be different to Figure 1; indeed, if you were to select another activity; it would be different again. What you are most likely to have drawn, however, is a learning curve that is not perpendicular but one that has many twists and turns. Were you able to identify any circumstances that clearly affected your ability to progress – for example, any unhelpful feedback or comments from others? Students that you support will themselves be on a learning pathway towards competence. If you found aspects of behaviour unhelpful, it is likely that those you mentor in the future will also be similarly challenged.

It is perhaps also worth remembering that although you will be supporting others to seek consistent and competent practice at a level indicative of their development, students will also experience periods where their confidence plateaus or dips. You might wish to consider how you might react to this so that you can provide the most effective support to enable, encourage and nurture their development and competence.


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