Debate Magazine

Tacit Learning (part 2)

By Stevemiranda

Yesterday, I wrote about the power of “tacit learning,” a notion from Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown in their book A New Culture of Learning. One particularly important aspect of tacit learning, borrowed from philosopher Michael Polanyi, is called “indwelling.”

The authors write, “Indwelling is a familiarity with ideas, practices, and processes that are so engrained they become second nature. . . . When we think about engaging the passion of the learner, we need to think about her sense of indwelling, because that is her greatest source of inspiration, but it is also the largest reservoir she has of tacit knowledge. The basketball player who knows how to shoot a jump shot has not only a greater motivation to learn about biomechanics because it might improve his game, but he also has a vast stockpile of tacit information that can help inform him of what might be good questions to ask about how to shoot a basketball effectively. It is not just that the basketball player cares more. He actually knows things and makes connections on a tacit level because for him, these are places where indwelling happens.”

When I read this, I thought of a former PSCS student named Aaron. He’s a heavy metal drummer with the goal of some day becoming a professional studio musician. Last month he presented to the PSCS community his senior project, a process that begins not with the quest for the right answer, but with an inquiry into finding out the right question. Seniors are charged with completing a senior project that is challenging, furthers a personal passion, and is completed over a long stretch of time. For many students, just figuring our what their project will be requires deep introspection. But it’s not something a teacher can do for them. The students must figure this out for themselves.

Aaron decided he wanted to build a drum kit from scratch. It took him more than six months to complete, but he did it—and the results were extraordinary. (I’ve embedded a video below, so you can see for yourself.)

And that’s exactly the point the authors are making; of course Aaron’s drum kit is extraordinary. When you start by challenging the student to craft his own question, when you engage him in an area in which he’s passionate, and allow him to utilize his vast body of tacit knowledge, indwelling happens. The personal growth that comes from this process becomes exponential.

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