From watching outward-bound and outdoor education teachers while sat in a canoe, or from over the edge of a cliff; standing in surgical greens and mask, watching operating nurses teaching their students while a patient lay unconscious during open heart surgery; observing chefs flambé, footballers kick, hairdressers bleach and bricklayers build; watching one of my students teaching a belly dancing lesson in a garage. You could say I've seen it all! Not quite, but my time doing teaching observations was quite eclectic and in some cases you could say - extreme.
Far more extreme is the high workload some students take on to achieve their goals. Sadly, some students put in minimal effort, and they often fail to achieve their full potential. Others work extremely hard, giving up their sleep and sacrificing their comfort to ensure they secure the best possible outcomes. I see this happening all the time as a university lecturer. But I can only speak authoritatively about my own learning experiences.
While I was studying for my first degree, I knew that the clock was ticking. My job was coming to an end and I knew that I needed a good degree to be able to advance my career in the right direction. I had a young family with three small children at the time, and they were constantly in the back of my mind. So I enrolled on an Open University degree, studying psychology. OU degrees are usually part-time at a distance, completed while students are working and/or caring for others. It's not the easiest route to a degree, but for those with no other option, it's the University of the Second Chance. I decided I was going to complete my degree, part time, in just 3 years. This meant simultaneously completing two full courses each year. I spoke to my tutor, who told me it couldn't be done. Several of my colleagues who had completed OU degrees also advised me it was impossible. Doing an OU degree part-time, while holding down a full-time job (and my evening job teaching 3-4 nights a week at the local college) was not conducive to good health, I was warned.
So I took all their advice into consideration. And I went and did it anyway.
When someone tells me something can't be done, it's in my nature to do it at least once, just to prove them wrong. So I worked all the hours I could, giving up sleep, forgetting to eat, sometimes working around the clock, to manage the huge workload of a part-time degree programme. I was completely out of my comfort zone. And I was enjoying it. I caught up with sleep when I could. I ensured that all my reading was done ahead of time, and that when it came to writing my assignments, I focused completely and utterly on achieving the highest possible grades. I ate, slept and breathed psychology, and probably became a huge bore to all those around me. 'Look, there's that psychology bloke' - people would say, pointing me out (usually while I snoozed standing up in the lunch queue). In its own way, it was extreme learning, and I put my body and mind (and my relationships) through a lot of stress to achieve my goal.
I achieved a first class honours degree in three years from the Open University, and almost immediately walked into an academic (research) post at the university. Extreme, but necessary. I was highly motivated and it paid off. It just goes to show - if you want something badly enough, you'll do almost anything to get it. You can learn anything if you want to. What about your students? What motivates them to extreme learning?
Photo by Laura F on Flickr
Extreme learning by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.