Humility: Enabling Learning

Since the summer of 2009, I have been dabbling in, wandering around and sometimes taking and completing the courses on offer at, a unique resource for those who are interested in facilitating learning.

Recently I registered for “Facilitating Online Learning” which is being offered by Dr. Nellie Deutsch (the primary engine behind, and her colleagues Dr. Ludmilla Smirnova, Diethild Starkmeth, and Judith Behrens. Diethild and Judith started out like me, as a learner at IT4ALL (Integrating Technology for Active Life-long Learners).

In the first week of our course, we are tasked with creating an artifact that focuses on the topic of the week, “Enabling Learning.” We all worked through a number of discussions about what the elements were that were necessary in motivating ourselves and in motivating the learners we lead. My colleagues in this course come from countries all over the world. They teach/facilitate learning in a variety of contexts, from companies that provide services to companies and their trainers or to schools, to grade school and high school teachers, university teachers, and folks who teach languages, primarily English as a foreign language. I started out pretty confident about what I know, what I’ve learned over the last three years of immersing myself in education again.

As I read through the posts of my colleagues, I grew more and more humble. Enabling learning is a significantly more nuanced and difficult task than “merely” teaching and “merely” teaching, especially teaching well, is really difficult too. The folks in my cohort in “Facilitating Online Learning” are really in the trenches, thinking about what attitudes need to be present in a learner to meet his or her goals in the class they are taking, how one motivates, what are the elements of interaction that are important.

And I felt less and less confident that I had a significant portion of the answers, and more and more in awe not just of the answers my colleagues in the class were pondering, but also in their commitment to reflect and rethink the process in which they were engaged in their own classrooms, and in their own learning. I started feeling humble in the face of all that expertise and all that reflection on what the limits of that expertise might be.

As I read along and chimed in now and then with my own two cents, I became more convinced that humility as a heartfelt attitude is really important in enabling one’s own and another’s learning. On the site, “Brainy Quote” the following is attributed to Gandhi:

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”

This one is attributed to Thomas Merton:

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

There are a lot of other definitions on “Brainy Quote” but I think  these two are really important when it comes to enabling learning: that first it is necessary to have the willingness to admit wholeheartedly to errors, diving right into a good “rethink”; and that second it is important to have and hold the notion that wholehearted humility keeps it real.


4 thoughts on “Humility: Enabling Learning

  1. This is such a great lesson you are teaching us, Nan!
    Thank you for sharing your experiences in the course, and thank you for reminding me that every learning experience start with the initial reflection: What is it that I don`t know, and would like to find out about?
    The greatest lessons I have learned in life were surprising, untimely, and didn`t seem to fit in to my world. They made me grow, and these are the lessons I am grateful for.

    • Thanks so much Diethild. Those are the best kinds of learning — the surprising moments, the aha moements! 🙂

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