How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Hanrui Zhang, Lead Speaking Center Coach

To me, the definition of learning is the process of receiving and responding to feedback. Any online search for the purpose of feedback will close with something along the lines of “to improve the system it gets fed back into.” As a bilingual coach, student, and older sibling, feedback has been a central focus of how I’ve both taught others and learned things in life.

In my experience, learning is a synthesis of feedback. Learning is taking the feedback and making a conscious note to actively work towards using that feedback as fuel for positive improvement. As a sort of self-sufficient feedback system, before I sleep every night, I ask myself to type out or vocalize 3 positive actions I did during the day, and 3 actions I could have performed differently in to improve the day.

Usually, the actions I liked doing consist of something along the lines of “I’m happy I got a nice sweet cup ice cream today.” Despite the more whimsical nature of this specific observation, I still believe I accomplished the point of identifying positive actions. In this case, I’ve found that learning about what made me happy in the day is a crucial step towards building a positive mindset for getting excited about learning more things in general.

For the 3 things I could have done better, I usually take a deep dive into my words and attitudes towards others during the day, and I’ll often evaluate several of my thought processes throughout the day as well. As a Speaking Center Coach, I find this part relatively easy on the days I have work, since there is always a rich treasure trove of interactions during every appointment that I can draw from to assess today’s behavior.

In a more macro lens, identifying 3 positive actions at night help me realize that my studying paid off for a difficult quiz, that my coaching during a session really helped a student feel better about a speech, or that I finally got some ice cream to eat after skipping lunch. In another light, this “feedback” for myself helps push me towards experiencing the feeling that the positive action entailed. Similarly, the 3 areas of improvement that I identify help push me to be more conscious of what made me not perform those actions to the best of my ability. My self-awareness of these improvements I could have made help make meaning of how I felt about those actions.

Another reason why I define learning as feedback is because I have witnessed students who I’ve coached at the Speaking Center learn so much about themselves through my feedback. I strongly believe that a huge part of coaching is being able to provide useful feedback to the student, which in turn motivates the student to improve themselves in that aspect. Whether it be an observation about their pace, eye contact, transitions, style, or posture, every bit of feedback helps students identify and stick to better paths in their learning process.

All in all: to learn, seek feedback. Understand and remember the things you are doing correctly in the learning process and identify the improvements that can be made. When there is a constant system of input and output of those items, the learning process becomes a much more multi-dimensional experience. As a coach, I hope to always provide honest, accurate, and real-time feedback to ensure that everyone learns about public speaking the smart way.




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