Category Archives: education

Experiences in the lecture theatre

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about cycling students around Honey and Mumford’s learning modes [See ‘So how do people learn?‘ on June 20th 2018] without explaining how this might be achieved in a lecture course.  The first step in the cycle is having an experience, which is difficult for a student in a lecture theatre with dozens of other people.  A demonstration by the lecturer does not achieve it because the student is not doing and feeling.

So, how can the first step be achieved in a traditional engineering lecture course?  Well one answer, for introductory courses, is to exploit the everyday experiences of the students by choosing something that they will have done for themselves, preferably more than once.  It can be useful to perform a demonstration at the start of the lecture to engage the students and remind them about their own experience.  All of the lesson plans provided on this blog start with this kind of activity [].

The lecture can proceed to reviewing the experience and building a new context around it, i.e. the engineering principles that are being taught.  It might necessary to review the experience in several different ways and make a series of connections to it.  I recommend that the third step: concluding from the experience, should be a student activity guided by the instructor – perhaps a piece of homework that leads the student to take the fourth step on their own, becoming a Pragmatist by planning their next steps.

Doris Lessing, Nobel Laureate for Literature, in ‘The Four-gated City‘ wrote ‘That is what learning is.  You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.’  Understanding an everyday experience a new [engineering] way is what we are trying to achieve.


CALE #4 [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]

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]

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.