Friday, January 2, 2015

Defining Vertical Learning

Happy new year!

I have attempted to define vertical learning multiple times, without success, in the past. Each time, my thinking gets a little bit clearer. Today, I feel like I am almost there.

In this post, I will be summarizing my thinking and linking to additional posts that take individual thoughts and expand on them. I will be doing this thinking and writing over a period of a few weeks, so this summarizing post will be evolving. I will be updating it every few days. If you read something that strikes a chord with you, and you’d like to know more, please let me know in the comments. My goal is to define vertical learning to a general audience as clearly as possible.

Starter Motor Analogy

Most cars today have an electric motor that is used to start up the car’s engine. When you turn your key in the ignition, the starter motor draws current from the battery and starts to spin. The starter’s driveshaft is connected to the engine through a series of gears, so when the starter motor begins to spin, it turns the engine. Once the engine is running on its own, the starter motor disengages from the engine and turns off. In this system, we are using a smaller motor to get the larger engine going.

A Focus on Outcomes: Integrity, Alignment, and Taste

Vertical learning is a starter motor. When building a starter motor, outcomes matter. It doesn’t matter how good of an electric motor we build if it doesn’t successfully fire up the main internal combustion engine. In this case, the engine is an internal feedback loop that drives us, as individuals, to strive for integrity, alignment, and taste.

We strive for integrity by identifying our core values, discovering who we are and the things that matter to us. We strive for alignment by making sure that we are living according to those core values. This means examining our own behavior, but also examining things in our environment. Taste is still a little nebulous for me — I feel like it has many aspects — but I think it is linked to integrity and alignment. When something isn’t quite right, you know it and it bugs you and you have to do something about it. You have a set of internal standards that you are constantly evaluating things against.

The Origin Story

Vertical learning was born out of a very personal journey. I had no ambitions to change the world or put a dent in the universe. I felt somewhat alienated growing up. I couldn’t find anyone who thought in the ways that I thought, so it was a challenge for me to connect with people and talk to them. I was drawn to education because I wanted to:

  1. Understand how my mind worked
  2. Help people to learn and think better
  3. Create a community where we could learn and think together

It may seem like a stretch to talk about building a starter motor that can fire up the engine of integrity, alignment, and taste in everyone. It seems crazy to imagine that we could provide learning experiences that would put everyone, including that incredibly close-minded relative who corners you at family gatherings and seems to lack any self-awareness, on a path to enlightenment. But I’ve experienced it for myself, through my own personal growth and the growth I observed in a cohort of students that I had the pleasure of working with for three years.

Building Up, Drilling Down

So how does the starter motor work? What is the technology behind it? The core idea is that learning goes vertical when we learn by building up and drilling down.

To be continued…

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