Big L Learning – Changing the Learning Landscape

Friends with backpacks on climbing the summer hill

Most debates about education are a clash over small l learning vs. Big L Learning. Small l learning encompasses much of standards based education – learn fractions, compare two pieces of literature, write a few paragraphs on a predetermined topic. Small l learning also extends to children’s behavior and development by focusing on changing a challenging behavior, or fostering one slice of child development.

Big L Learning is behind the voices calling to go big in education, calling for more time to build things (Makers Movement), use play as a powerful force for learning (Peter Grey), creativity (Sir Ken Robinson) and empathy/emotional-social learning are promoting a broader type of learning – Big L Learning. Big L Learning happens when children engage multiple problem-solving, meaning making and learning modules of the brain, body and mind to learn. Big L Learning pulls in attention, memory and motivation while
stimulating curiosity, experimentation and sense-making abilities.

It happens when a child is engrossed in learning, be it watching the behavior of cats, learning how good friendships feel or constructing a skate board ramp.

Storytelling as Big

L Learning

Recently, I watched Martha and Mitch, a wonderful couple who have enriched thousands of children’s lives by teaching the art of storytelling, work with a group of third graders on this wonderful craft. Storytelling is an essential learning capability, deep within our DNA, enabling our species to transmit information about daily events and across generations. The third graders’ level of engagement was through the roof as
skills, from memory and visualization to listening and reasoning, were off scale. Clearly, many dozen modules of the mind were fully engaged.

Big L Learning requires little effort yet produces maximum results. It is truly natural learning, tightly tied to primal learning and problem-solving capabilities; it is our species’ evolutionary advantage. Yet Big L Learning has been largely ignored during the hundred years of formal schooling and “modern” parenting.

Creating a Love of Learning (with a big L)

Many parents and teachers are concerned that traditional schooling does little to promote a love of learning or a life-long interest. When learning centers around Big L Learning this isn’t an issue. We have a natural tendency to learn in Big L Learning as they are rewarding, engage curiosity and our drive to understand.

In Creating Capable Kids, the upcoming book based on the ideas in this blog, we will present twelve innate capabilities that promote Big L Learning. To really give our children a rewarding childhood and a fulfilling future, we must help them develop a range of capabilities:

  1. Embodied, engaged, exploratory and experimental capabilities that allow them to learn from every experience in life.
  2. Sense-making capabilities that allow them to perceive the world with great imagination, creativity and freshness.
  3. Meaning-making capabilities that allow them to understand themselves and the world by tapping into subconscious processes and bodies of knowledge in a fair and meaningful way.
  4. Social, emotional and inner capabilities to help them master life’s biggest challenges arising from emotional, social and internal conflicts.

These four groups of capabilities are highly beneficial to children, helping them
in their daily lives and when they mature. They naturally promote learning that is Big as well as enjoyable. We will explore each of these capabilities in future blogs.

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