What would you think of a school, college or programme of learning that received an inspection report describing it as a:
rather messy, higgledy-piggledy design, where everything seems randomly connected to everything else?
You might regard this as a rather damning judgement. But these are the words* used by Danah Zohar to describe the neural net of the human brain, which is arguably the world's most successful learning system. And I would say that much really successful human learning is indeed messy, higgledy-piggledy and somewhat random. Just think about how a child learns its native language - certainly not through a linear series of carefully planned lessons each with a clear-cut outcome. And I would say that the same is true of learning to ride a bike, of learning to play a musical instrument and a host of other real learning experiences. We learn best by being immersed in a rich learning environment and with the support of people who care about us.
So why do headteachers, policy-makers and inspectors demand that programmes of learning should be linear and coherent? Maybe there would be more real learning if we modelled our programmes on the messy reality that seems to lie behind successful learning experiences. Maybe there would be more real learning if teachers were encouraged to take their students off-piste, as described by Rebecca Front.
* The quotation comes originally from the book The Quantum Self, and is cited in Margaret Wheatley's excellent book Leadership and the New Science. I have just removed one word to make Zohar's words fit my context: the original talked of a "higgledy-piggledy wiring design".