Take the Next Step

Kristen E. Cox [2008 Distinguished Alumni for the BYU School of Education] has been appointed to a national committee by President Bush, headed the Utah Department of Workforce Services and lost a gubernatorial election. She’s a vibrant, engaging woman—disarmingly confident in front of a crowd. She’s been an educator, a politician, an advocate and is currently raising both a teen and a toddler. Oh, yeah, and she’s blind.

She shared an experience this afternoon from her time in “Boot Camp for the Blind,” an intensive training program culminating with the participant being blindfolded [I know, seems a little like a moot point] dropped off at a random location in Baltimore and instructed to find their way home on foot, asking only one question along the way. In preparation for the “final,” she and her mentor were walking in a city park crisscrossed with a maze-like network of paths. Tired, frustrated and completely disoriented, she planted herself in the middle of the walkway, refusing to go another step. “This is ridiculous. I’m done.”
Her instructor’s response suggests some interesting implications for learning: “You’re not going to know any more than you know now,” he said, “until you take the next step.”

By implication, then, every “next step” we take results in our knowing more than we did before.

What’s fascinated me as I’ve thought through it [I had learning theory just after the lecture] is that this analogy can thread through each of the major theoretical approaches we’ve studied. For a behaviorist, that next step will trigger either reinforcement or punishment and we will “learn” to shape our behavior to increase or decrease the incidence of the stimulus. For a cognitivist, in that next step we attend to new information, and build those new observations into the experience we have already stored in memory, perhaps applying lessons already learned to the new context we encounter through transfer. For a social learning theorist, we take that next step because it has been modeled for us—we’ve seen others learn through this action and we have seen them be reinforced for it…or not, in which case perhaps we’d rather not know any more than we know now.

So, perhaps, even though in all the mainstream paradigms we refuse to name it thus, the eternal even self-evident truth that man is an agentive being simply is and runs beneath the surface of all this theorizing…and somehow we know, even when all of science and psychology and neurobiology tells us otherwise, that we’ll never know any more than we know now until we take the next step.

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