Why Learning Intelligence? By Kevin Hewitson
14th June 2017
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”
George Orwell [i]
Sometimes the obvious is on our doorstep, often ignored and rarely noticed. So it is with my experience as a teacher and in the development of the concept of Learning Intelligence, or “LQ”.
After a career of nearly 4 decades in teaching I have taken an opportunity to step out of the classroom on a daily basis and take the time to reflect and research. It is a chance to read all those authors and study their ideas and theories with the benefit of experience. If education is guilty of anything it is the jumping on an idea and wanting it to solve all the problems surrounding teaching and learning. The list of theories and game changing concepts in teaching is significant and probably an indication of the fundamental importance of needing to “get it right”. Do we need another theory or concept, that of Learning Intelligence or LQ[ii]? I think we do and this is why. Let’s face it, it has to be better than “back to basics”, the “3R’s” or the PISA[iii] ranking stick we are often beaten with.
Imagine something so big that no matter which way you look, up/down, left/right, it almost blocks your view. It is a colossal structure and its surface is a multitude of fine intricate patterns and textures coloured in every imaginable shade and tone. It is impossible to see it all at once and the best you can do is to look at one small area at a time. As an outsider you have no idea how it functions or really how it does what it does. It is too big to study all of it in any one lifetime. So people focus on just one small part and try to predict how the rest of it works based on the discoveries they make, no matter how small or controversial. We call these people “researchers”.
Those who want to control or master it are not those that study it but they do make claims about what must be done to improve it. As each new discovery is published new practices that sweep away the old are introduced. We call these people “administrators”.
Then there are those that work in it, know only what works and what does not work and follow their instincts. They have little time for studying it as they are too busy “doing it” but they must take on each new practice as if it will solve every problem and make whatever this huge thing is efficient. We call these people “teachers”.
This has been my experience in education, but after a career which included some challenging situations, I have had the benefit of almost 5 years to study what the researchers have come up with and piece together with the aid of experience something of the big picture.
I have not the space here to list all the theories or ideas I have been subjected to or tried to make work. Nor to list the authors and speakers I have listened to. One thing I have been able to do though is to trace some of the ideas back in time and explored their roots through the lens of experience. It has proved enlightening. For most I have found a grain of truth, an element that when blended with others does indeed work.
The outcome is simple, it occurred to me we may be going about teaching back to front and the evidence is there right in front of our noses. This is the background to my concept of LQ so let me explain what it is.
Let’s start with a couple of propositions. Learning is a personal journey, whatever we see or experience each of us may take something different from it. The education system tries to standardise learning and assessment. This process involves both curriculum content and teaching but more significantly assessment. Unfortunately assessment has come to mean only qualifications or standards. This is despite the work by Dylan Williams and Paul Black [iv] who promoted the importance of assessment for learning.
With this “engine” driving education it is easy to see how the process of teaching and learning is susceptible to a somewhat mechanistic approach. Use this tool to fix this problem, use this method to achieve this goal. The learner is only required to conform to the policies, practices and ambitions of the system, to be compliant, in order to be successful. This standardisation though brings with it responsibility, that of having the right tool, policy or method. If anything is wrong with these then we risk limiting individual achievement for the sake of compliance[v]. I asked Sir Ken Robinson if compliance was a learning disability within the education systems we have. His reply was whilst it may not be a disability it is a disadvantage.
As a result of this approach we hit a buffer, we are brought to a halt, when it is found that not all learners are the same, or more to the point given the same input the outcomes are not the same for all learners. We have seen this outcome explained by saying students having “abilities” or “aptitudes” in certain subjects or being referred to as “Gifted and Talented”, in short labelling learners. These labels set expectations and the mechanism could grind on with the variable outcome now explained in terms of the raw material or the people who operate it
There was another shudder in the machine when it was suggested that we had what were referred to as “learning styles” or “multiple intelligences” [vi]and that if we learnt in a way that satisfied these then standards would rise[vii]. The machine that is education duly took responsibility for changing practices, it could do no other. When this did not “work” we looked for other reasons for why some learners are more successful than others. Maybe it is not the machine that is at “fault” perhaps learners don’t have a “growth mind set[viii]” or display sufficient “grit” to do well.
I would claim that education is at fault for taking responsibility for learning and by trying to control the learning environment to suit every type of learner, although given the circumstances I have suggested it could do no other. The responsibility to raise standards weighs heavily and so ultimately becomes the only focus for teaching and learning[ix]. Anything that is not already credited with raising standards or is not the outcome of research or a product of legislation is seen as too risky to attempt. It will probably continue down this route too unless something changes and I suggest LQ is that change.
So what makes LQ unique or different? Well firstly it see the education system as an environment, one that with the right skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours we can manage in a way that allows us to meet our learning needs. I need you to read that again, it’s what’s has been right under our nose all along. Instead of the learner being the passenger we teach them to be the driver able to understand and navigate their own learning. This is not “learning to learn”, it’s about understanding and managing learning.
LQ is a construct; a form of narrative that brings all the pieces, ideas, and theories of the jigsaw together in a meaningful way, it’s the 3D viewer that allows us to explore the colossal structure that is education. LQ is something we need to develop in learners if they are to manage any learning environment they encounter. LQ will allow us to create lifelong learners. As Albert Toffler[x] warns “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”
There is much more to LQ than I can discuss here and to date I have published well over 50 articles on the various aspects of LQ both from the perspective of education, the teacher and the learner. You can find them all on my blog at https://4c3d.wordpress.com/ You can also find out about my work as an author, consultant, coach and speaker at www.ace-d.co.uk
Should you wish to find out about how LQ can make a significant difference to you then please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will start a conversation!
Kevin Hewitson has been an Assistant Head Teacher responsible for assessment, teaching and learning and Gifted and Talented. He regularly discusses education with professionals around the world where his ideas are enthusiastically received. His aim has always been to engage and challenge both higher performing learners and those who see learning as a challenge. He has taken this work forward independently and is now an educational consultant, author and keynote speaker working with educational organisations, schools and teachers.
Kevin is the creator of a concept he refers to as ‘Learning Intelligence’ (LQ). LQ is defined as the ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. He is also author of many educational resources and his blog and website are a wealth of ideas and information, as are his tweets.
[i] from Orwell’s essay “In Front of Your Nose,” which was first published in the Tribune newspaper, London, March 22, 1946
[ii] If you want to skip the rest of this article and don’t suggest you do, and go to the heart of LQ go here:
[iii] The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. PISA Results Show No Real Improvement in UK Schools PISA Tables 2015 Volume 1 PISA Tables 2015 Volume 2
[iv] INSIDE THE BLACK BOX: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment Jan 1990 Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment – Dylan Wiliam
[v] For a discussion about the impact of compliance on learning see the article “Is Compliance a Learning Disability” at http://wp.me/p2LphS-kd
[vi] See Howard Gardner regarding Multiple Intelligences https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Gardner
[vii] See Barbara Prashnig’s article on this subject “Debating Learning Styles” http://www.creativelearningcentre.com/downloads/Debating%20LS.pdf
[viii] See Carol Dweck Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential – Carol Dweck
[ix] To explore the “Responsibility Ratio” see “The Return to School” article at: http://wp.me/p2LphS-kk
Tags: Kevin Hewitson, learning intelligence, Learning Quotient, LQ