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Regular version of the site

An Exciting Journey of Discovery

Dr Elyssebeth Leigh, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Technology, Sydney – Australia will be visiting HSE Moscow to give lectures and take part in discussions at the HSE Institute of Education on May 15-19, 2017. She has been working for over 30 years as an educator and learning designer in workplaces and academic settings. As an experienced adult learning facilitator she has published four books and numerous articles and conference papers on learning and teaching. Much of this work concerns the use of simulation in learning and research.

Her cooperation with HSE comes from an interest in simulation she shares with Natalia Isaeva, Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Education, who she met through the International Simulations and Gaming Association and Simulation Australasia 2016 congress. In an interview with the HSE News Service ahead of her visit to Moscow, Dr Leigh spoke about her concerns regarding learning, teaching and simulation for learning and research.

— You are an educator and learning designer in workspace and academic settings. Can you explain what this means, and give us some examples? How does it work in real life?

— In my teaching practice I use simulations to help learners plan ahead, reflect on current actions, and/or understand past events. An early Russian expert in this work was Maria Bernstein [at the The Saint Petersburg State University of Engineering and Economics, then known as ENGECON, in the 1920s-1950s] who developed models for social change and demonstrated how to implement them through simulation.

My own work mainly draws on three forms of simulation:

A) short activities that are tightly focused on a single social issue such as trust, or cooperation;

B) longer activities that invite participants to enact multiple number theoretical frameworks through a structured engagement with a set of concepts and theories;

C) computer-aided activities [e.g. 'business simulations’] that ‘shorten time’ to allow participants to explore the impact of their decisions, through a number of cycles of decision making.

There are forms of similar activities in different disciplines. They all share the common features of being intended as representations of real life created in an abstracted/shortened manner.

While they are not a ‘play’ in the dramatic sense of the world, they are a kind of ‘enactment’ of what participants think that some aspect of life is like.

I think it is fair to say that adult learning, something in which you are a great specialist, is something new and not yet very developed in Russia. 

Adult learning is now making use of the work of Lev Vygotsky - and coming to an understanding that his work was ahead of its time in understanding how human beings learn. Adult learning differs from ‘teaching children’ mainly in regard to the way that educators think about their pupils.  Adult educators know their pupils have lot of life experience, and encourage them to bring that into the learning space, as that it can become part of the fabric of their next phase of learning. Teaching children is more often based on the notion called ‘tabula rasa’ - that the student knows nothing [a blank slate] and needs to be told what is important for them to learn. A problem with this in the 21st century is that children are no longer [if they ever were - were you?] a ‘blank slate’ for pre-chosen information to be written on them.

— What is your main approach to adult learning? How can you give it a boost?

— My particular approach to working with adult learners is to use experiential learning activities.

These have three foundational points i) they use immediate activities to create experiences in the here and now, that is there is less reliance on passive ‘telling of what is important and more exploration of relevant actions; ii) they draw on participants’ life experiences as the foundation of what is already known in order to decide what needs to be learned next, and as far as possible the learner is the one making such decisions; and iii) it removes the teacher from the role of ‘expert in information’ and gives them instead a role as guide and mentor - a fellow explorer.

— Have you got a 'magic formula' for adult learning? What would you say is the best method?

— If I believed in ‘magic formulas’ mine would be that everyone a) understands how they learn, b) knows how to make use of what is available for them to learn from, and most of all c) has fun doing so. But there are many complicating factors that get in the way of making this magic formula a success. Some adults think they need to be told what to do. They do not trust themselves and their knowledge. I find this especially sad, as their knowledge in the best gift they have with which to guide their life choices. Other adults want to ‘tell’ others what to do, and this too is sad as some of their knowledge will be vital but can be missed because of the way they tell it. 

My favorite statement about adult learning is in the title of a book “we make the road by walking” by Myles Horton and Paolo Freire.

For them the power of education lies in sharing it equally with all, and making the learning journey uniquely our own for each one of us. 

— How did your cooperation with HSE start and develop?

— My cooperation with HSE comes from an interest in simulation shared with Natalia Isaeva. We met through the International Simulations and Gaming Association and Simulation Australasia congress in 2016, and it has been going ever since that.

— What are the main theses of your lectures and discussions in Moscow? 

— In the discussions and lecture sessions in Moscow I will engage with participants in as many different ways as possible to demonstrate how simulation can be used in their various education disciplines. It is a tool and a methodology that suits all fields of study, and can be adapted in so many unique ways to engage learning.

— What advice on organizing would you give to those who are working in an academic environment? 

— Look carefully at the extent to which your content, and the manner in which you teach it are either aligned or opposed. If you are teaching content about ‘how to manage’ that suggests giving workers responsibilities and encouraging creativity - but you are not doing so in the classroom, then the students may question this mis-alignment of what is said with what is done.

— Is there anything specific you are interested in for discussions with HSE colleagues?

— How education is socially constructed. My Australian experiences differ from Russian ones - at many levels, but I think that deep down the similarities are there. Finding them is an exciting journey of discovery.

— Have you been to Russia before? What would you like to see in Moscow? 

— I have been to Moscow several times since 2001, and enjoy seeing and being in almost any part of it that I can visit. I have visited VDNH, the Cosmonauts museum, and the Tretyakov Gallery - where I spent an hour looking at the work of Levitan! So I am easy to satisfy in regard to what I would like to see - whatever comes will add to my understanding, whether it is places I see again, or places I see for the first time.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, for HSE News service


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