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The Effective Communicator

Learning as a Communication Event
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Like any encounter between two or more human beings, learning can be analyzed as a communication event.  Let's look at learning that way.

Experience to Expectation
Early experiences are automatically analyzed and developed as a format.  We use this early-experience model to formulate the new experience.  So our first experiences which we did not get to choose gave us a frame of reference for later experiences.

We all develop expectations based on our early experiences.  We learn to organize these expectations, by probability and according to priorities.  We proceed to new experiences in language and life, using innate mental abilities to analyze these experiences.  I think this is a common, simple way to understand how we learn.

When as children we learned language, we did not have to learn every new sentence.  But we did have to learn some model sentences, which became the basis of expectations of how sentences should be made.

Basic learning theory needs to take into account the basic skills or capacities we were born with that enable us to learn from experience.  With this ability to learn, God has given us a part of who He created us to be.  The set of experiences and our ideas about them, as individuals and as communities, are what we refer to as culture.

Experience and Culture
A culture, or culture group, is a group of people who share a common set of experiences.  In this sense you can say that there is, at one level, an African culture or a European culture.  Then there are subsets of different experiences within one broader culture.

The more different the experience sets are, the greater the cultural distance will be.  In Texas, where I grew up, two ethnic groups, Spanish and Anglo, each came to Texas with a different set of experiences, then developed in parallel, with many common experiences.  This new set of common experiences yields a Texan culture.  But they still have separate unshared experiences.

Common culture group experiences, such as language, naming patterns, social roles and other behavioral expectations (the social culture) are among the factors in our culture and communication styles, which form the frame of reference for learning.  Learning styles, then, are an aspect of culture.  (Individual characteristics also affect learning styles.)

Experience and Perceptions
The perceptions we gain from our culture enable us for our home culture without our conscious awareness, but also are a limitation.  A learner has previous experiences that help make sense of new input.  But we become more discerning and critical as we gain more experience, to accept one thing and reject the other or to believe one thing and reject another. As we go through new experiences, we learn new things.

Experience to Worldview
Each people of the world have a unique set of experiences from their history, geography, religion, etc.  The teacher, like every other communicator, must take this unique culture into account. This culture is based on a unique set of experiences and a unique group cultural self-identity results.

This is the frame of reference for reality for this culture group, or people group.  This common frame of reference is what we refer to a worldview.  New input into that worldview must initially make sense, with some common points of contact, with that worldview.

Communicators must carefully identify the worldview of the group with which they wish to communicate.  This becomes more critical the more different the communicator's cultural background is from that of the target group.  We need to identify common experiences as communication bridges.

Since every encounter between two or more humans can be analyzed as a communication event, learning is one type of communication event, whether formal or informal, through teaching or observation.  Our human perceptions are limited.  Our experiences enable us to relate to people in our home culture, village and family. At the same time these are limitations because of differences in how other people are learning to relate to their home culture, family and village.

New experiences are evaluated on the basis of previous experiences.  New experiences and knowledge are evaluated on the basis of previous experiences and knowledge.  This greatly affects what your audience can perceive when you speak.

The greater your awareness of the previous knowledge and learning style of your target audience, the more effective you will be as a communicator in that setting.

Also related:
Culture and Experience
Culture, Learning and Communication
How Do You Know?
Quick Guide to Language Learning


Originally published in the series “Effective Communicator” in the journal Afri-Com, published in Nairobi, Kenya, February 1998
Posted to OJTR 09 June 2006

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 1998, 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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