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No. 627, March 1, 2010

Which philosophy on learning and growing?

Behind numerous discussions concerning education, leadership, pre-schools, psychotherapy and cultural integration you often find to two different viewpoints of learning and growth: the behaviourist and the developmental science.

If we understand these two philosophies of growth we can see patterns in conflicting opinions and understand many contradictions and paradoxes. They can be illustrated with the following examples:

1) In the behaviourist approach the human being can be characterised as a piece of marble which is to be sculptured to a suitable shape through rewards, criticism, limits and other outer processes. People can be "designed" to desired abilities, attitudes and values.

2) In the developmental approach the human being can be seen as a flower that will grow and develop through an appropriate environment, proper nourishment and a sensitive care adapted to its different stages of life. Attempts at control may hinder growth, but with knowledge about its needs the flower can be cared for to reach its full potential.

Young people tend to be fascinated by behaviourism and the unlimited possibilities it seems to offer. But after a few years as parents, many move toward a more developmental view.

Strategies is a good example. During its first years Strategies had a more behaviouristic approach based on the learning methods of the 1980-ties. But as its contributors became older and had seen their children grow, the developmental view grew stronger. Strategies is not unique. Legendary psychologist Abraham Maslow is know to have "converted" after the birth of his first child, from a strong behaviourist to a passionate developmentalist. Canadian psychologist Gordon Neufeld, one of the most clear developmental voices of today, shares a similar story.

Depending on your philosophy the following rather "black & white" questions will be answered in different ways:

Sometimes both viewpoints can be combined, but often they are in opposition to one another; too much control often hinders motivation and emergence; different ages have different needs. As the knowledge society develops these questions will become increasingly important.

Which viewpoint fits best with your values and your experience? Which viewpoint dominates in your organisation?

Creative regards! Jonas Himmelstrand

© 2010 Strategies to Learn & Grow Newsletter • Printable version

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