“The journey of learning…”

Learning Bow Drill Friction Fire

We are all on a journey of learning throughout our lives, whether it be as a husband, wife, parent, brother, sister son, daughter, teacher or bushcraft instructor. These different roles that we have require us to gather a range of skills and techniques to allow us to perform to the best of our ability at that moment in time.

How we learn is constantly evolving. The Industrialised approach to learning from the Victorian era was all about promoting efficiency in the factories and required reading, writing and arithmetic to be the most highly prized skills for children to develop. The teacher led from the front talking at the class often learning through repetition. This model requires the teacher to be the supplier of information and a reliance on always being there for the student. There is no room for creativity, imagination or exploration. The priority is all about developing the core skills, transferring them into the work place and increased efficiency! When I was at school this linear approach was very much still in effect. It was important to choose your pathway early on and drive towards passing exams, progressing to college and university. This did not really resonate with me as I wanted to be creative and work outside, so I chose a career in Horticulture and later a bushcraft instructor.

As a father of four boys and husband to a primary school teacher I am really keen to inspire a love of learning for my children and bushcraft pupils.

Psychologist B.J.Fogg from Stanford University believes that you need 3 things to promote learning. They are motivation, ability to carry out the learning and a prompt to do it. Motivation can take many forms from the feeling of pleasure of learning, social acceptance or rejection from peers, to the anticipation of success and the fear of failure. The ability to carry out the learning is about structuring time for learning, whether this be in school or a college environment or between work and family time. The prompt to do it comes from different places depending on your outlook. My prompt comes from a place of curiosity and creativity when I am looking to study a new bushcraft subject. I become obsessive about learning every detail as I am striving for acceptance from my peers and the satisfaction and freedom that knowledge brings. The difficult area for me is making time to carry out the learning outside of work and family time.

I do not consider myself to be a teacher in the traditional sense, at the front of the class feeding information, but as an instructor / coach striving to encourage, nurture and inspire with kindness, humour and a passion for my subject. It is important to encourage figuring stuff out, taking risks and not being afraid of failure. The industrialised model of learning is very geared towards succeeding at all cost and that failure is not an option. This permeates out into all areas of life and can be very detrimental to learning as it develops a stigma around failure. I see this on courses when customers are scared to try the harder task and instead settle for the easier option. They are frightened of failure! I prefer to think of FAIL as the First Attempt In Learning. Our creativity evolves and develops through trial and error and the perfecting and honing of skills. The phrase “If at first you don’t succeed then try and try again” will certainly resonate with those of a certain age. These barriers are being broken down by people like author Elizabeth Day in her book “How to Fail2 and in her podcast 2How to fail with Elizabeth Day”. She has strived hard to show us that there are many positives and much personal growth to be had from confronting our failures.

I had to work hard to hone my friction fire skills on my journey to becoming a bushcraft instructor. There were failures and frustrations in developing my bow drill technique but I confronted them. I reached out to my bushcraft peers and spent many hours problem solving my technique and journaling my findings. It is a technical discipline and this approach was really useful. I had the components to promote my learning, the motivation, the ability to spend the time and the prompt to do it.

Sir Ken Robinson who is a pioneer in thinking about education is a great advocate of the growth mindset. As homo sapiens we have an enormous capacity for learning if we choose to use it.

In bushcraft there is an interesting transition between know that and know how. A common misconception is that watching a few YouTube videos or reading some content on Google can give you the skills you need. I have observed a few “armchair bushcrafters” over the years who believe that they know that about a subject but when it comes to the knowing how they fall short.  

I began my own bushcraft journey about 7 years ago and threw myself into courses and learning with enthusiasm. I soon realised that my obsession with the subject was steering me towards becoming an instructor but had little understanding of how I could achieve it but was determined to work hard and learn from my peers. It soon became apparent that I needed a plan for how to progress my learning so I set about breaking it down into manageable pieces. I used something I call the Smart 4R’s. The anacronym SMART breaks down as Specific e.g.  topic / skill, Measurable standard of proficiency, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound. This I combined with the 4R’S when learning a new subject or skill. The 4 R’s are Research, Record in your own words, Reduce to bullet points, Review to make improvements as the new subject or skill develops and refresh. In practice I would choose a given topic such as the friction fire and research, record, reduce and review the information over a specific time deadline such as a month. During that time, I aimed to be able to produce an ember and blow it into flame by practicing every day when possible and recording the experience. I also challenged myself to describe the process to my children. This was a hard challenge and although I hoped to produce an ember every day it was not always possible, but the specific task was measurable and during the period of a month was also achievable. It really helped my instructing knowledge to have experienced the frustrations and understood the problem solving I had to go through to overcome the failures. This model works for me as it gives me a defined structure to work with and allows me to constantly review and refresh the knowledge base that I have and make improvements as I learn more. I applied this process throughout my learning journey to becoming a Woodland Ways bushcraft instructor and am constantly reviewing and refreshing my knowledge.  The phrase ‘the more you know, the more you don’t know’ is very applicable.

Being presented with my Instructors Shirt after my final assessment weekend
Being presented with my Instructors Shirt after my final assessment weekend.

I like to think about the application of bushcraft and wilderness skills when I am instructing a group and in the back of my mind, I am thinking about the 5W’S & 1 H (what, when, where, who, why and how). What is it, when is it relevant e.g. spring or in a survival situation, where can I locate it e.g. in woodland, wetland, mountain, Who have we learned this from e.g. hunter gathers, animals, Why does it happen e.g. Acorn gauls caused by a wasp, How do we process e.g. the animal hide into clothing or willow bark into cordage.

It is very easy to know that a nettle can be processed into cordage for example but the knowing how to do it takes practice and time. The two elements of the knowing need to come together for a new skill to become embedded knowledge that can be shared with others.

When I am instructing, I want to make my sessions fun and informative. I am a great believer in the Malcolm Gladwell concept of making the information “Sticky” so that it is memorable. I like storytelling and a lively, memorable performance sprinkled with humor and group participation. Elicitation is a good way to gauge the collective knowledge of a group.

There is a Buddhist saying that “When the pupil is ready the teacher will come”

Becoming a bushcraft instructor is a bit like passing your driving test, it is just the start of the journey!

Psychologist B.J.Fogg from Alex Beard The learning Revolution BBC SOUNDS.
Elizabeth Day “How to Fail”
TED TALKS Sir Ken Robinson
Malcolm Gladwell “The Tipping Point”

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