I have come to believe that to really learn something you need a few, very specific things which are not part of the traditional education system. These do not include a classroom, a teacher, nor a final exam to certify what you officially know, as from what I learned on my own, none of this is really necessary.
Photo credit: Artmann-Wi
The key strategic resources needed for effective learning are exactly the same ones you access daily when in need to find out how something technological works or how to solve a difficult psychological situation. The field of interest does not affect the learning resources you use.
But somewhat distracted, numbed by what traditional media and parents have been telling us, we appear mostly incapable to look at our educational system with fresh eyes, or to ask relevant questions as to why we force our most promising youth to spend the most brilliant years of their lives to memorize dates, facts and notions they will have little use for in the real life that exists outside of their secure school walls.
Descarga Cachao - Timba Latin Jazz Quintet - This group is made up by several of the teachers / masters of my music school - a place I have realized has many of the traits of the ideal learning environment
I am not discovering anything new by underlining how much of the learning we do in our everyday life happens just-in-time, under the most informal circumstances, outside of a classroom and in the absence of a teacher.
But realizing, acknowledging and consciously understanding the apparently obvious characteristics of natural learning, provides a powerful key to gradually harmonize what we actually know from real-life to what we "culturally" have been educated to do, when in need to go out and learn something.
To bridge these two seemingly distant realities I am taking a real example from my own personal life in which, as a Latin percussions student at a small private music school, I have accidentally discovered a perfect learning environment, where a mix of different cultural ideas and objectives has created a uniquely creative environment for any serious Latin music learner.
The school is called Timba, and while sitting in the heart of Rome, Italy, it cultivates the spirit and musical traditions of music percussions of all kinds and in particular those of a far away island, Cuba, mother of so much of the percussive language pervading our present day music language.
The video showcased above, which I have recorded live a few days ago, is the Timba Latin Jazz Quintet, a unique group of talented musicians made in good part by some of best teachers / musicians working at the Timba school.
I am a beginning student at the Timba school having been there less than a year. Even in this short time I have had the opportunity to realize how special this learning environment is and what makes it so damn good.
This is a topic that is very dear to me, not only because I think it is something that touches everyone's life as we increasingly need to learn and adapt to new and more complex environments, but also because I am very much involved, in this publishing work that I do, in actually providing some of the resources needed to help others learn what I have discovered before them.
I feel we are nearing a time where less certifications and more tangible proofs of what you are good at are going to be the norm. Understanding that learning is not stuffing one's own head with thousands of names and formulas is the key to have better and more intelligent people around.
Check out my vision for learning and what I have recently said in my presentation for LeWeb08 in Paris. Learning is not teaching, and to really learn something properly you really need to be in the position of loving that something you want to make yours.
And this is why I have chosen to feature the Timba Latin Jazz Quintet in this article today. The music school this quintet represents is a great example of how learning, no matter what the topic is about, should really be.
In this short article, I try to capture and list what I see as being the key characteristic of the Timba music school which make it such an ideal learning place.
1) Open Access
Learning is all about having freedom to access the tools, peers, learning objects and experts anytime you want to learn study something. No need to sit down in a classroom at a specific day and time. Resources, books, CDs and unique people need to be always accessible to the serious student.
The Timba music school is accessible at most times and six days out of seven. The school acts also as a professional recording studio and practice location for many independent musicians in Rome. Anyone can call in and reserve a music practice room or you can just drop by and find some friends or an empty lab to play in. If you are a student you can schedule private lessons and have free access to a good number of free hours inside any practice lab.
2) Learning Objects
You can't learn something if the object of what you need to learn is not something you can have easy access to. Unless your learning interest is purely speculative and theoretical, in most cases, learning something requires having access to tools, objects, machinery or special individuals that allow you to try out, experiment, practice, review and perform your desired learning goal.
At Timba school, music instruments, sound-proof rooms, microphones, speakers and sound amplifiers are the bread and butter or any music learner. Having these objects in good state, accessible and available for every learner to use at her request is a key fundamental requirement for learning and the school does all it can to provide accessibility, support and good maintenance of all such critical resources.
3) Passionate Peers
The best learning environments are characterized by passionate individuals who share a common interest and get together to exchange, talk, practice, teach other and learn convivially. Such groups are not characterized by age or district of residence. They include individuals of all ages, social classes and ethnicities. Being together with other passionate learners is by itself one of the most valuable traits of an ideal learning environment as key lessons and skills are often learned informally by asking or emulating what a peer does.
The Timba school reflects all this by being a place not characterized by age-based classes, rigid teach to student relationships and structured lectures at all times. The learners are the ones that make up the true value of the school, and since many of the masters have the right attitude of being teachers and students at the same time, great opportunities arise for everyone to learn something from someone else.
Elders are individuals that have lots of experience. They may not be always the greatest teachers, but they are invaluable resources when it comes to get strategic advice, tips or better understanding into the what and why of who certain things came to be.
When I am at the Timba school there are always some experts and wise masters that you can go and ask anything you want to. They are accessible and easy-going and they often enjoy coming and playing some sessions during our learning rehearsals.
Having great models to follow and to be inspired by can provide a great boost in the motivation, drive and quality of work any learner places into his own study path. But beware. In my view, models, more often than not, are in the eyes of the beholder. You look up to someone, but not always because of his acquired public merits or celebrity, but because you like something specific about how that person does or executes something. You study, analyze, dissect and question his operating mode and by doing so you learn in much greater depth what it takes to make yours what he or she already has. A model act as reference from which to capture, emulate and absorb what is not already part of your abilities.
My school acts as a perfect venue for this by offering such a variety of individuals, personalities, professional musicians and passionate artists that anyone can tap into such wonderful diversity to pick and select what most appropriate and interesting for her.
The presence of people who perform for serious artistic purposes or who work professionally at the creation of what you are interested in can provide significant additional value to a learning experience. Professionals have specific goals, operate under tights or controlled budgets, need to make little mistakes and work around achieving a certain standard of quality in what they do.
At the school, seeing, helping or co-operating with their work is as real as the real thing can get, and getting down to do the things with the front line guys is a pretty obvious hard-to-beat learning experience.
7) Opportunity To Try, Experiment and To Be Wrong
Having the chance to screw up, make tons of mistakes, go wrong a million times and start again afresh each single time is the key winning card of any serious learner. Whether for learning the newest interactive video game or for mastering a new percussion rhythm, a space where judgment is momentarily suspended and mistakes are well accepted components of the learning practice, one can learn at much higher speeds than where mistakes are underlined, greeted with irony and sarcasm and elevated to criteria for being able to access more advanced knowledge and skills.
While old-fashioned approaches to teaching keep surfacing here and there also at the school, the general spirit is one of embracing mistakes as an opportunity to gain extra insight and to discover new things. Obviously, performing under fear of "making a mistake" is never good for a learner. What you need is exactly the opposite: a supportive, friendly circle of friends that spontaneously pushes to help you and to fill you in when everything else seems to fail. And that's what I find at the Timba school.
8) Showcase - Perform - Put Into Practice Publicly
Putting into practice what you have learned, especially if this takes place somewhat in a public, open access format, where people you don't know can peek in, participate and comment on what you do, can be extremely helpful in consolidating and mastering those skills you want to know best. Practicing within a classroom or only within a controlled and familiar audience is most often not the best way to try out something you may need to execute under very different terms.
The Timba school is a small ongoing performance house with jamming labs and open sessions happening every few hours. If you want to dive in, they have got plenty of water.
9) Learning From Each Other, Just-in-Time, With No End (or Exam) in Sight
When individuals are freed from the idea that learning must be connected to a final exam / test to measure and certify what you really know, wonderful things start to happen.
And once you have the luck of finding yourself inside an ideal learning environment, like my music school, one of the great, deep touching discoveries you make is how much you learn directly from your own peers. Not only learners in such an environment are very inclined to openly share, help and support each other when needed, but the overall atmosphere breathes of a place where everyone is always willing to share all of his knowledge and skills without expecting anything in return. Your peers feel like younger brothers and sisters who rather than compete with you, are your own best gateways to learn more and faster.
10) Learners' in the Driver Seat
When it is the student who can choose his master, peers and practice and learning times, you know something is going the right way. If it is true that it is really up to the learner to make all of the steps to relate and master what she is interested in, then it must follow that it must be the same student who chooses what to learn, from whom and when to do it.
In my music school you can choose not only your teacher(s) but you can also participate in the practice labs of any of the other classes and teachers without needing to be specifically enrolled in them.
For those of you interested in paying a visit to the real Timba music school, in Rome Italy, you are more than welcome to do so and here below you can find some Google map directions on how to get there. See you there!
The official address is: Timba - Villa Musica
via del Fornetto, 11
Telephone: 0039 06 5566099 - 06 55308154
Web site: www.timba.it
Disclosure: I have no commercial affiliation or partnership with the school, have not been asked to write about them, and have not yet informed them of my intention to give them such indirect, positive coverage. My reference to them is fully spontaneous and prompted by the unique setting and circumstances under which learning takes place in this place.
Learning Objects - Blaz Kure
Open Access - Sebastian Kaulitzki
Passionate Peers - Mark Hunt
Elders - Nicolaas Traut
Models - Rick Lord
Professionals -Andrei Kiselev
Opportunities to try - Miroslav Georgijevic
Showcase, perform -Nicolaas Traut
Learning from each other - Lisa F. Young
Learners in the driver seat - Nikolas Spasenoski