Category Archives: Real life

So how do people learn?

Here’s the next in the CALE series.  When designing a learning environment that supports the acquisition of knowledge by all of our students, we need to think about the different ways that people learn.  In the 1970s, Kolb developed his learning style inventory which is illustrated in the diagram above.  Approaches to learning are plotted on two axes: on the horizontal axis is learning by watching at one end and learning by doing at the other; while on the vertical axis is learning by feeling at one end and learning by thinking at the opposite end.  Kolb proposed that people tend to learn by a pair of these attributes, i.e. by watching and feeling, or watching and thinking, or doing and thinking, or doing and feeling, so that an individual can be categorised into one of the four quadrants.  Titles are given to each type of learning as shown in the quadrants, i.e. Divergers, Assimilators, Convergers and Accommodators.

In practice, it seems unlikely that many of us remain in one of these quadrants though we might have a preference for one of them.  Honey and Mumford [1992] proposed that learning is most effective when we rotate around the learning modes represented in the quadrants, as shown in the diagram below.  Starting in the doing & feeling quadrant by have an experience and being an Activist, moving to the feeling & watching quadrant by reviewing the experience as a Reflector, then in watching and thinking mode, drawing conclusions from the experience as a Theorist, culminating with planning the next steps as a Pragmatist in the thinking and doing quadrant before repeating the rotation.

There are other ideas about how we learn but these are two of the classic theories, which I have found useful in creating a learning environment that is dynamic and involves cycling students around Honey and Mumford’s learning modes.


Kolb DA, Learning style inventory technical manual. McBer & Co., Boston, MA, 1976.

Honey P & Mumford A. The Manual of Learning Styles 3rd Ed. Peter Honey Publications Limited, Maidenhead, 1992.


CALE #3 [Creating A Learning Environment: a series of posts based on a workshop given periodically by Pat Campbell and Eann Patterson in the USA supported by NSF and the UK supported by HEA]

Formative experiences

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how we all arrive in the classroom with different experiences that are strongly influenced by the conditions in our formative years.  When I talk about this process in workshops on teaching, I invite attendees to tell us about something that has influenced their approach to learning.  However, I kick-off by sharing one of mine: I joined the Royal Navy straight from school and so I arrived at University having painted the white line down the centre of the flight deck of an aircraft carrier but also having flown a jet.  This meant that my experience of dynamics was somewhat different to most of my peers.  It’s amazing the life experiences that are revealed when we go around the room at these workshops.  Feel free to share your experiences and how they influence your learning using the comments section below.

CALE #2 [Creating A Learning Environment: a series of posts based on a workshop given periodically by Pat Campbell and Eann Patterson in the USA supported by NSF and the UK supported by HEA]

Photo by Pedro Aragao [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported]

The disrupting benefit of innovation

Most scientific and technical conferences include plenary speeches that are intended to set the agenda and to inspire conference delegates to think, innovate and collaborate.  Andrew Sherry, the Chief Scientist of the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) delivered a superb example last week at the NNL SciTec 2018 which was held at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool on the waterfront.  With his permission, I have stolen his title and one of his illustrations for this post.  He used a classic 2×2 matrix to illustrate different types of change: creative change in the newspaper industry that has constantly redeveloped its assets from manual type-setting and printing to on-line delivery via your phone or tablet; progressive change in the airline industry that has incrementally tested and adapted so that modern commercial aircraft look superficially the same as the first jet airliner but represent huge advances in economy and reliability; inventive change in Liverpool’s Albert Dock that was made redundant by container ships but has been reinvented as a residential, tourism and business district.  The fourth quadrant, he reserved for the civil nuclear industry in the UK which requires disruptive change because its core assets are threatened by the end-of-life closure of all existing plants and because its core activity, supplying electrical power, is threatened by cheaper alternatives.

At the end of last year, NNL brought together all the prime nuclear organisations in the UK with leaders from other sectors, including aerospace, construction, digital, medical, rail, robotics, satellite and ship building at the Royal Academy of Engineering to discuss the drivers of innovation.  They concluded that innovation is not just about technology, but that successful innovation is driven by five mutually dependent themes that are underpinned by enabling regulation:

  1. innovative technologies;
  2. culture & leadership;
  3. collaboration & supply chain;
  4. programme and risk management; and
  5. financing & commercial models.

SciTec’s focus was ‘Innovation through Collaboration’, i.e. tackling two of these themes, and Andrew tasked delegates to look outside their immediate circle for ideas, input and solutions [to the existential threats facing the nuclear industry] – my words in parentheses.

Innovative technology presents a potentially disruptive threat to all established activities and we ignore it at our peril.  Andrew’s speech was wake up call to an industry that has been innovating at an incremental scale and largely ignoring the disruptive potential of innovation.  Are you part of a similar industry?  Maybe it’s time to check out the threats to your industry’s assets and activities…


Sherry AH, The disruptive benefit of innovation, NNL SciTec 2018 (including the graphic & title).

McGahan AM, How industries change, HBR, October 2004.

A short scramble in the Hindu Kush

I have been resolving an extreme case of Tsundoku [see ‘Tsundoki‘ on May 24th, 2017] over the last few weeks by reading ‘A short walk in the Hindu Kush‘ by Eric Newby which I bought nearly forty years ago but never read, despite taking it on holiday a couple of years ago.  Although it was first published in 1958, it is still in print and on its 50th edition; so, it has become something of classic piece of travel writing.  It is funny, understated and very English, or least early to mid 20th century English.

It felt quite nostalgic for me because about thirty years ago I took a short walk in Gilgit Baltistan. Gilgit Baltistan is in northern Pakistan on the border with China and to the west of Nuristan in Afghanistan where Eric Newby and Hugh Carless took their not-so short walk.  I went for a scramble up a small peak to get a better view of the mountains in the Hindu Kush after a drive of several days up the Karakorum Highway.  We were driven from Islamabad to about a mile short of the border with China on the Khunjerab pass at 4730 m [compared to Mont Blanc at 4810 m].

I was there because the Pakistani Government supplied a small group of lecturers with a mini-bus and driver to take us up the Karakorum Highway [and back!] in exchange for a course of CPD [Continuing Professional Development] lectures on structural integrity.  This we delivered in Islamabad to an audience of academics and industrialists during the week before the trip up the Karakoram Highway.  So, Eric Newby’s description of whole villages turning out to greet them and of seeing apricots drying in the sun on the flat roofs of the houses brought back memories for me.