What is learning? An eight part series with Dr Robert Long on culture and learning (6/8)

July 13, 2023



Dr Rob Long, Dr Nippin Anand and Dr Pedro Ferreira are on a car journey on the roads in Chennai, India exploring the topic of learning. So not the usual podcast but a carcast! The discussion begins with a brief introduction to what learning is not. Drawing up examples of driving and the road journey in India we then discuss how human beings learn. We discuss what is embodiment and why embodied learning matters for learning to become effective and sustainable in an organisation.



Further information



Nippin Anand  00:00

Hello and welcome to embracing differences with me Nippin Anand, founder of novellus, a podcast series dedicated to understanding different perspectives about how we as human beings, or rather, social beings make decisions.


Nippin Anand  00:18

The podcast series draws from different disciplines including religion, mythology, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, biology, neurosciences and stem, making it truly transdisciplinary meaning transporting her rather travelling across disciplines. The idea is not to claim that one method or discipline is superior to the other, but to hold competing disciplines, competing values, diverse perspectives, intention.


Nippin Anand  00:49

And when that happens, we create space for doubt and reflection. The idea is to enjoy travelling and the ambiguity that comes with it. Experiencing dissonance discomfort, how else do we learn? This is the podcast about understanding culture, safety, culture, and how we as human beings learn with Dr. Robert long. The question that we ask in this podcast is what is learning? Dr. Robert long Dr. Nippin Anand, which is myself and Dr. Pedro Ferreira, are in a car journey on the roads in India, exploring the topic of learning. We can call it a car cost instead of a podcast because we’re sitting in a car. If you watch it on a YouTube video, the discussion begins with a brief introduction to what learning is not before we move into what learning means. So we drop on different examples of driving and the road journey in India, and then discuss how human beings actually learn. We discuss what is embodiment, what is experiential, and why embodied learning or Experiential Learning Matters for learning to become effective, and sustained in an organisation.


Nippin Anand  02:09

Okay, hello. Hello, everyone. My name is Nippin. And I’m joined by Dr. Rob long. And Mr. Keith Lewis, and Dr. Pedro Ferreira, who you will see in a second, yes, there he is in the Dickey. And we’re going to talk about the idea of what is learning? And how do people learn? And Rob is going to give us a flavour of that. Rob, would you like to? Would you like to talk about what is learning and what learning means to you?


Rob Long  02:40

Thanks, Nippin.


Rob Long  02:42

Well, here we are in the traffic of Chennai. And


Rob Long  02:48

I think for the last five days, I’ve had a very, very different learning journey. But let me talk about learning. First, there’s a great deal of confusion around learning, and what people think learning is, in a lot of languages used interchangeably for learning. And it’s not about learning. So, you know, learning can involve things like comprehension. Learning can involve things like belief, learning shouldn’t be scooped confused with things like schooling and training, we also need to be very clear about the idea of education. And so there are many, many terms used and used interchangeably, which often blur what learning is about. And then we end up with the most crazy language that floats around, that a machine can learn. So even people now talk about machine learning. But we have to be very, very careful because the repetition of algorithms is not learning, the ability to regurgitate something is not learning. So, you know, you can teach a parrot to repeat words, it doesn’t mean that that parrot comprehends the intelligence of that word. So the first beginning in Torah, to understand learning, is to actually understand the terminology. And for me, learning has to involve embodied movement. In other words, learning has to involve the whole person, and it has to be involved, a change in the movement in your being. Now, lots of people consider the brain is just a computer. And that learning is putting things in and getting things out. And so there’s a great deal of confusion between learning and training. And people think you can test learning, you can test training, you can train people, and get them to repeat and repeat until they actually do a process. It doesn’t mean they comprehended it. It’s like the parrot. Or, you know, it’s the Like, any sort of thing you can train animals to do, learning is much, much more deeper, much, much more complicated. It is very complex. And so if you go to university, and you study theories of learning, there are hundreds of theories of learning all competing with each other. And each one of those theories is focusing on a different aspect of learning. So we need to rid ourselves of simplistic behaviourist in and out ideas of training. And then we need to move to this idea that that learning involves the embodied knowing that creates movement that makes people move. Does that too complicated?


Nippin Anand  05:47

I would like you, because the terminology might be very, very new to many people. Would you like to because I heard the word embodied, learning, embodied knowing, yeah, help us understand what you mean by embodied the term embodied


Rob Long  06:04

my my whole being. So the idea, which came from Descartes, or Kate Cartesian thinking of this binary separation of the head from the body, the brain from the body, and a lot of people use the notion of a computer, a metaphor of computer, as if that is how the brain works. That is not how the brain works. And all the research by some of the greatest scholars, Antonio Damasio, Mark Johnson, Thomas Fuchs, and so on. All of those people and their extensive research show that the brain is not a computer, it works nothing like a computer. In fact, our whole body contributes to our learning. And at best, our brain serves as a coordinating organ, amongst other organs. And so Claxton, wonderful, wonderful scholar, says that the brain does not issue commands, it hosts conversations. And so what we really have is a body that embodies many systems, we have a nervous system, we have an endocrine system, we have a breathing system, and so on. And these systems make decisions on their own, not commanded by the brain. But these systems make decisions and then tell the brain about it. So embodiment is about is about, about moving away from this thinking of the brain as the director of learning, and the fact that our whole body contributes to learning. And so then when something happens to us, so for example, you may get an illness, and that illness is in one of your limbs, your limb then tells your brain that you have an illness, but your body is already starting to repair it, right. But we learn by by that pain, that in our nervous system, that we have that illness, that we have something wrong with us. And then we may make a decision to go see a doctor. Or we may make a decision not to see a doctor, if we haven’t learned things in our past. It could be by experience, it could be by training, but we need to understand that learning is just not about putting something into a being and getting something out. So for example, when we have been here in India and have gone to say, a temple, and seen people practising their faith, right, then ask a very interesting question. How do these people embody what they believe? How did they learn it? And on many, many occasion, it’s not about head knowledge. It’s about heart knowledge. They feel it emotionally. They, they learn by doing not by some theoretical idea. And so to us, it looks like the things they’re doing is mere superstition. That’s not how they think about it. They have learned about their faith in a very, very different way. And it’s not centred in the brain. And unfortunately, what Westerners do is all we laugh at look at these people look at their look at their mythology, look at their rituals, look at whatever are they’ve been duped, you know, they’ve got this habit and that commands their lives unless you adopt a more sophisticated sense of Learning, you will come to all of what you see with the most amazing arrogance. And it’s based upon a naive idea of training of schooling. And schooling and training is not learning. Very good.


Nippin Anand  10:13

And just to add to that, Rob, yes, that’s part of it. And I think the other part of it is just looking at, for example, one of the daily activities that we do, which we call driving, you learn to drive first, first thing you learn to drive to rules and procedures, yes, you read some books, you do some training, somebody sits next to you, and they tell you exactly what you should be doing. Yes. Until it becomes embodied in you. Yes, until it becomes habit, until it becomes so intuitive, that you don’t even think when you change gears. You don’t even think when you apply brakes, you don’t even think when you have to how much distance you have to keep from the other car. So I think that is also a very good example of how training turns into embodied learning. Yes,


Rob Long  11:03

that’s a good yes, it becomes automatic. That’s right. And, and it’s not even reactive. Like if you turn the camera and we look at these people, you know, and we’re so lucky, because it’s wide open here. But one of the things you’ll observe is, this is not rational decision making, you’re looking at people are intuitively moving at such a fast pace. If they act, they actually had to stop and rationally comprehend what they were doing. They wouldn’t they just simply wouldn’t drive in the morning. So yes, I think driving is a wonderful idea of embodied filth. Emotional, look at that. See, those those two motorbike? Drivers? Yeah, amazing. Yes, had. And, and they had an automatic, but not communicated understanding between each other, based upon using years of experience. And now they just do without thinking. So embodied learning. This, this is why machine can’t learn, because it doesn’t have a body. And we need our bodies for so many aspects of learning. And so disembodied learning is computer learning. And that’s not how humans learn. So when we talk about how we learn, I mean, you can learn from experience you can learn from a book, you can learn from suffering, you can learn from so many things. Yeah, yeah, that might be enough.


Nippin Anand  12:47

Yes, I think so. Yes. Bedroom, is there anything you would like to add?


Pedro Ferreira  12:52

I was just thinking of this. parallel between what we observe here with the traffic of the very different density, and what we observe out in the seas with ships. And how collisions between vessels is remainings remains such a big problem. We keep trying to rationalise it with rules in automation. And so perhaps a question to ponder on is surely the problem with maritime collisions lies somewhere, then enforcing automation and rules aboard ships?


Rob Long  13:39

Yes, it’s why we spend so much time in our training, teaching people about mind one mind to mind three, we try to help people understand that human beings have one body, but three modes and three speeds of decision making. And it’s not until we understand that 95% of all human decision making is non rational. It is not irrational. It’s a rational. It doesn’t involve the rationality until we understand that we don’t truly understand how people make decisions. They certainly don’t go back to the procedures to read decisions. They don’t go back to manuals and pieces of paper. Unless we, as human beings can make fast and efficient decision making automatically. You can’t live. You simply can’t live now. Just before we


Nippin Anand  14:39

go go off the air. Rob, why do you think understanding this whole idea of embodied learning is so important for organisations why they should they think about it.


Rob Long  14:55

I thought about this a long time and I just I get I see Same much elevation of disembodied learning something goes wrong. We have an incident or there’s a fatality on a site. And we always go back to why did you not follow the procedure? Why did you not do this, and, you know, some of these procedures are 100 pages long. And the human person cannot hold in short term memory, more than a few things. So they actually have to be embodied in order to be known. And we have as humans, hundreds and hundreds of heuristics, which are mental shortcuts, which are embodied shortcuts that we just know. So every time we go out for a walk, we don’t have to relearn how to walk, like we were, as a three year old, we don’t have to relearn things. Because walking is now done without thinking, got it running is without thinking, you know, we think of a little child at a young age, has to go through quite an agonising process, just to drink from a cup, they go from a bottle to a cup. And this whole idea of just bringing to your mouth and putting it down is takes quite a few months for a child to learn. And yet we as human beings, we don’t think about how to pick up a cup and put it to our mouths now. It’s automatic. And so there are so many things that we embody as we grow up. And you know, when you first learn to ride a bike, you know, you fall over, you have a tumble you put on training wheels. I mean, look at these people around us now. Some of them are riding pushbikes, against the flow of the traffic. Yes. And you look at this, and you think they’re not thinking about what they’re doing, their mind is on where they want to go. And you


Nippin Anand  16:54

know what’s interesting in what you just said, Rob, that if somebody falls off the bike or something happens, the first question you would ask is, why did you not follow the road rule? That’s an interesting question. And an even more interesting is that we are not prepared for the answer that I don’t know. Yes. Because the moment I say, I don’t know, it, I’ll be radicalised. Yes. Because that thinking does not exist, that it’s not in the knowing it’s not in the rational mind now at what happened to this person, they can be explained, they cannot explain it. Yes, it cannot be explained. It’s only through conversations. It’s only through open questions, that they can tell us what is embodied, what is embodied in them? That’s right. And we are not ready for those open conversations. We don’t even know how to ask questions that would lead us to that embodied mind. And I often use the analogy that, you know, the embodied mind is something like, you know, the, the you you imagine an onion, onion, onion, and it’s it’s, it’s it’s covered in layers and layers and layers, and you need to get to the core of it. Yes. So you don’t know how to peel those layers to get to the embodied mind. What most people do is just they just take a knife and they just chop it off. Yes. And they never actually get to the core of it. They just they just chop it off. So we never actually come to understand how people make decisions. So I think back to your point, Rob, if you want to know how people make decisions, if you want to know how people learn, you have to come to terms with the idea of embodiment.


Rob Long  18:30

And you have to come to the idea of unconsciousness. That’s right, you have to is but but I think particularly in in industries, like risk and safety, it is so rational that people think that a worker or a seafarer or whoever’s doing their job, they actually think they have embodied a set of rules and procedures. But most of what’s done is done by feeling by emotion, by heuristics, and by unconscious decision making. And it’s actually a good thing, because it makes us fast and efficient. But all of the decision making is unconscious. And then when something goes wrong, we go back to the consciousness and we blame the consciousness, you idiot, you fool, you moron. You didn’t do step 123. And, and so this is crazy in Congress, but how workers really make decisions, and then we put them back into a classroom. So now we’re going to all make you good at decision making. The whole process no one talks to anyone. It’s all done by assumption. It’s all done by this crazy metaphor, that, that humans make decisions like a computer is input and output and that’s not how we learn, and it’s not how we act.


Nippin Anand  19:50

What a brilliant discussion. Is there anything else you would like to say to shoes wet? Yeah, Pedro. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.


Nippin Anand  20:05

Do you have any questions, any feedback, any comments, any criticism, you can always write to us, you can write to me personally, at support@Novellus.solutions. You can also leave a message for us on our website, developer stock solutions. You can email me personally at Nippin.Anand@novelist.solutions and you can find me on LinkedIn. Until then, have a good day. For those of you who are interested to understand culture, safety, culture and the concept of learning, rather how we as human beings learn, we have a workshop coming up in Stavanger in Norway, from the fourth to the sixth of October. The the idea of this workshop is to give some practical methods and tools using the framework of social psychology of risk to help people become our I would say, invite us if leaders become a little bit more deliberate and strategic about understanding and influencing culture. So you can expect a lot of practical exercises, group work, tools, methods that would actually help you to understand culture. I hope you can join us there is all the details on our website novellus.solutions/events, please check it out. And we hope you can make it and we would love to have you with us