Teaching, Learning and Barcelona

A recurring theme in education is that the way we teach students should mimic the role/job for which we’re preparing them. For example, there is a belief held by many that the way students should be taught science should mimic the actual process of being a scientist. This inevitably leads down the path of discovery learning and ‘learning by doing’.

There is a strong air of plausibility about this approach to education but it is worth looking at the world of sport for some counter arguments. Take a rugby team. A typical team will spend 80 minutes per week actually playing 15-a-side, full-contact rugby.  The rest of the time they are training. This training involves individual players working on their strength and conditioning; individual players working on their basic skills like goal-kicking or passing; smaller groups of players (e.g. the pack or the backs) working separately on skills and tactics that they, as a sub-group, need to perfect – scrummaging, for example. The point is that much of the training involves working on the building blocks required to make an effective rugby team.

When we watch the Ireland football team we often bemoan the fact that we play ugly football, football that inevitably involves hoofing the ball up the pitch in the hope that someone will ‘get on the end of it’. In contrast, even smaller footballing nations like Georgia seem to be more technically adept and more capable of playing incisive football. Of course, the ultimate footballing machine is Barcelona whose tippy-tappy football was on another planet in comparison with Ireland’s ‘route one’ approach. It is interesting that in the top footballing nations, youngsters learn to play the game in a way that is quite different from the way we do things in Ireland. Our youngsters start playing 11-a-side competitive football (‘mimicking’ the real thing) from a very early age, while in Spain and Italy the emphasis is on developing basic skills by playing in smaller teams on smaller pitches where skills like ball control rather than physicality are emphasized.

I could go on. Think of any activity whether it is golf, playing the piano, dancing or art.  In all cases, the way the activity is mastered involves a lot more than performing in a ‘real-life’ situation. Learning and ‘performing’ are rarely done the same way.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Teaching, Learning and Barcelona

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