Quality of experience is everything

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I always find it fascinating when you go back to the source of an idea. So often, we read what other people have said about an author, an idea, or a text, but don’t have the opportunity (or time) to go back to the original.

I’m just reading John Dewey’s short treatise Experience and Education, and can now relaly appreciate why Dewey is such an influential thinker. There are some absolute gems in this text, particularly:

“It is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even of activity in experience. Everything depends on the quality of experience which is had. The quality of experience has two aspects. There is an immediate aspect of agreeableness or disagreeableness, and there is its influence upon later experiences.”

By highlighting the quality of a learning experience upon a person’s subsequent attitudes and views, Dewey asks us to consider every aspect of an interaction between a teacher and a learner. It is not enough to focus purely on the quality of the content, we must also take into account the quality of the surroundings, our own and our learners’ attitudes and state of mind, the quality of their experience with technology, systems, administrative processes, communications, and so on.

In focusing on the quality of learning experience for each individual learner, Dewey laid the foundations for an inclusive approach to teaching. His emphasis on the need for teachers to be mindful of their state of mind and sympathise with their students can also be seen as comparable with Carl Rogers’ notion of educators having ‘unconditional positive regard’ for learners:

“It is worthwhile, accordingly, to say something about the way in which the adult can exercise the wisdom his own wider experience gives him without imposing a merely external control. On one side, it is his business to be on the alert to see what attitudes and habitual tendencies are being created. In this direction he must, if he is an educator, be able to judge what attitudes are actually conducive to continues growth and what are detrimental. He must, in addition, have that sympathetic understanding of individuals which gives him an idea of what is actually going on in the minds of those who are learning.”

It is all too easy for us to become preoccupied with the content of what we’re teaching, and caught up in the unhelpful idea of ‘delivering’ learning. Dewey’s focus on quality of experience not only offers a refreshing approach to teaching, but also invites us to take a much more holistic view of a learner’s interaction with an educational institution. In this respect, the challenges of successfully coordinating a cross-functional journey are comparable to those facing all large organisations.

It is here that a customer experience perspective can add real value. By reflecting the experience of the customer – in this case the student – back on the organisation, it is possible to examine all the factors that impact on the quality of the student’s educational experience. The departmental silos that exist in schools and universities are often among the most impenetrable, and there is rarely an organisational development function to address the cross-functional issues that these silos create. As well as focusing on what is happening in the minds of each and every learner, Dewey’s philosophy asks us to pull back and consider the holistic experience of their every interaction with an educational institution. By considering every experience within a complex ecosystem of experiences, we stand a greater chance of improving the quality of their overall learning experience and of improving their engagement with subsequent learning experiences.

And from a customer perspective, this means they are much more likely to do business with us again.


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