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Learning in extremis


Fig.1. Three years later

“Emergency Home Birth!” my wife exclaimed pointing at a book on pregnancy and childbirth.

My wife went into labour at 2.30am, we’d planned a home birth (this is her second) however our hospital was some 37 miles away and our allocated Midwife was another 20 miles beyond that.

I got her on the phone and she spoke to my wife between contractions – she wouldn’t make it.

‘Call an ambulance and I’ll be over in due course’, she said.

Chapter Six, ‘Emergency Home Birth’ looked like it needed half an hour to read and at least as long  again to digest; there wasn’t time.

Thankfully om the facing page of Chapter Six the editor had laid out the essentials in clear bullet points – towels, scissors and string are the ones I remember, probably because I required all three, these and the warning that the umbilical cord can get caught around the baby’s throat. I needed that too.

Just in time learning, delivered just in time.

And so it was, at around 3.20am, my wife on floor holding onto the  the end of the bed, towels in place that our son was born.

First his head, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his throat. I eased this over his chin and around his head, surprised at how thick and tough it was – then one,the both shoulders and he fell into my arms like a muddy rugby ball out of a scrum. My wife rolled around and sitting at the end of the bed she took him into her arms.

A few minutes later the midwife arrived, thought everything was going well and went to run a bath. In due course she showed me how to cut the umbilical cord then took my wife to the bathroom.

Learning in extremis?

In my day job I was supporting the teaching of such techniques at the logistics and distribution group UGC in Oxford.

I didn’t need a book, or a training video and given this was 1996 I wasn’t going to have Google, Quora or YouTube offer some advice.

I’ve had no further need for these particular parenting skills, though it’s been an adventure following two infants through childhood into their early teens.

Learning works best when it is pushed, when there is a challenge of time and circumstances, where it can be applied and seen to work.

How do we apply this to formal education, to studying for exams through secondary and tertiary education?

What is the difference with learning in the workforce, between physical actions on a factory floor, in a mine, power station or warehouse, out on a civil engineering building site or in an office or boardroom?

There need to be exams – from mocks to annual exams and finals.
Essays and regualr assignments are part of this best practice.
And how about tests, even the surprise test, not so much for the result, but for the pressure that ought to help fix some learning in our plastic, fickle minds?

In advertising we often spoke of ‘testing  to destruction’ that nothing beats a clear demonstration of the products power, staying power or effectiveness in memorably extreme conditions.

I like the idea of working Against the clock, of competition too, even learning taken place, as I have heard, as someone cycles around Europe, or drives a Russian Jeep from Kazakstan back to Britain.

I believe in the view that ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ – that you can galvanise a group to rally round when needed and those new to this game will pick up a great deal in the process; personally I loved the ‘all-nighters’ we did in our teens breaking one set then building another in the Newcastle Playhouse, some sense of which I repeated professionally on late night and all night shoots, often in ‘extreme’ places.

 

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