“I think we risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance.” – Rubén Blades

An episode of Radio 4’s The Food Chain sparked some thinking this week. It was titled ‘Is Convenience Killing Us?’ and explored the exponential growth of convenience and hyper-processed foods in recent years and the extent to which they now dominate the diets of many people. These products are cheap, convenient, hyper-rewarding, and very easy to over consume; they are also extremely low in nutrients (compared to whole foods) and literally disastrous for our health.

I found myself comparing 5 aspects of what was discussed in the programme to coaching, teaching  and learning.

1) Many of the ‘processing agents’ used in the food industry are unregulated, and food companies are not required to disclose or list them on the label (consider what might be involved in ‘treating’ a pre-packaged salad so that it still looks fresh 3 weeks after it was packaged!).

As discussed previously, coaches like to learn by watching other coaches. However, when you observe a session or lesson delivered by someone else, or perhaps come across a session plan or concept shared by a colleague or in the media – what might be missing from the label (Grant Jenkins refers to the ‘silent’ evidence)?

Likewise, are there any ingredients that shouldn’t be or don’t need to be there?

2) One guest on the programme suggested that a reason convenience foods are so pervasive is that consumers don’t behave in a rational way. Indeed, he suggests that most food marketing is intentionally designed to exploit our irrational beliefs and desires!

To what degree are your beliefs about teaching and learning based on rational thinking and reasoned evidence?

For example, the idea of ‘learning styles’ has permeated much teacher and coach education (indeed, in a 2012 study, 94% of educators believed that students perform better when they receive instruction in their preferred learning style). Likewise, the use of ‘tools’ such as the The Myers-Briggs personality inventory are widespread in business and education. However, there is very little to no evidence for their accuracy, reliability, or validity. Despite this, they ‘feel’ right to many people and make intuitive sense.

What might you be doing or using as part of your practice that ‘feels’ right, but lacks substance? [Tweet this]

3) Modern food processing now means we have almost limitless choice in terms of what we can consume, when we can consume it, and where. This is not dissimilar to the expansion in the amount of information that is now available to us since the advent of the Internet. Moreover, this information is more easily accessible than ever before, with the next guru or evangelical ‘expert’ only a tweet, instant message or blog comment away.

How do we quality assure and make informed choices about the information we ‘consume’? How do we filter the advice and opinions with which we are bombarded on a daily basis?

4) The presenter of the programme (in highlighting a possible benefit of processed foods) suggests that some cultures around the world still depend on monoculture (producing or growing a single crop). As a result, the lack of variety and choice in their diets has resulted in malnutrition.

Does your network represent a monoculture, whereby your Twitter feed, peer group or ‘community of practice’ acts as an echo chamber for your existing beliefs? In parallel, are you only exposing yourself to a limited or one-dimensional range of information?

How the brain works?

Whilst these sources are potentially beneficial for effective learning, they are equally as likely to be detrimental in the absence of sufficiently critical thinking. For example, our own recent research explored group blogging as a potential coach development tool, finding it to be useful, but only when underpinned with appropriate structure and scaffolding of knowledge.

5) Finally, the programme highlighted how many people cite a lack of time as a barrier to preparing home-cooked meals. Indeed, it was suggested that our modern culture often decrees that ‘busy-ness’ is a badge of honour, and having enough time to spend in the kitchen might be a sign of weakness or failure.

In some respects, I wonder how this relates to the time consuming nature of thinking? After all, if you can just log-on to an app, download a lesson plan, or copy what you see someone else do, why would you waste valuable time thinking about and coming up with your own solutions?

Indeed, a recent Futurity article questioned whether social networks make us lazy thinkers. Again, I’m not suggesting these methods and tools don’t have a time and/or place; in fact, I recently fixed a faulty tap by following a YouTube video!

However, teaching and learning is an infinitely complex area, where definitive black and white answers are extremely rare, and the essential ‘shades of grey’ are often difficult to define and/or convey.

As ever, ‘it depends’ and, unfortunately, worthwhile learning takes time, just like preparing a tasty and nutritious home-cooked meal!

Thought provokers and points for reflection:


2 thoughts on “Is convenience killing learning?

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