It has been estimated that the majority of the world population, about 4 billion people, would rather learn without reading,1 that means learning person to person, through observation, or via technology. These “oral communicators” comprise two groups. The first are those won’t learning from reading—either they don’t know how to read or they just don’t like to read! The second group is called “primary oral learners.”2 They live in communities where there is little or no exposure to print. Both groups constitute oral communicators and should find the Action-Reflection-Action (ARA) method to learning very enjoyable.
There are several common values shared by ARA and oral communicators. I will cover three in this first blog post (and more later). First, ARA begins with the learner’s situation. Second, ARA requires regular interaction between the learner and members of their community. And third, ARA values information from community sources.
Oral communicators prefer to learn from situations, events and involvement in processes. In fact, Walter Ong says that primary oral learners find it difficult to understand information that comes in the form of precepts, teachings, lists, and concepts. It is almost impossible for them to remember information delivered in these ways.ibid.
Likewise, ARA always begins with the situation. ARA course designers start by evaluating both the learner and the learner’s situation. The very beginning of most ARA lessons require that the learner become better informed about the topic of study by personally investigating their local situation. For example, the orientation task frequently has them talk with people impacted by a related problem in their community. The ARA principle of situating the learning in the student’s current environment is natural fit for primary oral communicators and makes learning relevant for all learners.
The second common value is the social aspect of learning. This is important to oral communicators because interaction with people is a key to making learning interesting. Primary oral learners highly value the well-being of their community. According to Ong,3 for them, learning or knowing means achieving close, empathetic, communal identification with the known, so learning strengthens communal bonds.
ARA is inherently social and communal. The face-to-face contact when researching the situation among community members is never abstract! The learner is immediately challenged both mentally and emotionally. Often, this highly motivates them to learn more. The learners are also exposed to other insights on the topic either through written or audio/visual forms. After each exposure they are asked to reflect about what they have experienced and learned. This is done with a facilitator. The learner is required to share with their peer cohort and may be required to facilitate discussing what they are learning with a group from their community.
In addition, the “action” that follows reflection in the ARA process is linked to the community. In order to pass an ARA course, learners must show some degree of transformation taking place in their own lives. This is usually demonstrated by some form of change in their personal lives, and normally, a corresponding activity or response within their community. This emphasis on frequent social interaction with peers and community members as an essential part of the ARA learning method aligns well with the social learning preferences of oral communicators.
Thirdly, in the ARA approach, information is not limited to a book or the knowledge of an expert teacher-lecturer. While there is certainly a place for such input, ARA recognizes that knowledge comes from a variety of sources, including the learner, the community members, and their experiences. By validating local wisdom as an important source of information, ARA affirms the experience of the adult learner and the insights that come from their social circle. Learners from oral communities can honor elders and others who represent their “living libraries.” Changes may come about more slowly, but by tapping local wisdom and interest these learners are potentially more effective since changes are negotiated with and through the community.
Oral communicators who make up the great majority of adult learners should find an ARA-designed learning experience lining up with several of their own learning preferences. They will enjoy the relevance of working with their own situation. They should feel energized by engaging with others in their community during the learning process. Lastly, they may be more effective as change agents by including the respected wisdom from their community members and working collaboratively toward solving local challenges.
1 Lovejoy, G. (2012). The extent of orality: 2012 update. Orality Journal, 1(1), 11–40.
2 Ong, Walter J., Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. New York, NY: Routledge.
3 Ong, Walter J., Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. New York, NY: Routledge, (p. 47)