Simon Page

SIMON PAGE learns some transferable skills via massage. Obviously.

brain friendly learning phd Simon Page transferable skills ts tslb wallet loss

“Where’s my wallet?”

The asker was a strange, old man with wiry, grey hair. He, like the rest of us, was standing in a small group at the front of the Babbage Lecture Theatre. And yet he didn’t seem to belong.

His enquiry into the whereabouts of his wallet was greeted with utter silence. The lady giving the course paused momentarily, her plastered grin frozen in place. Then, pretending not to have heard the man, she moved quickly on.

But we had all heard it.

Who was he? And where was his wallet?

Right, so it turns out that to get a PhD from this illustrious university, you have to learn some “Transferable Skills”. Well, that and you have to do a world-class piece of research.

Transferable Skills became desirable because some students were being awarded PhDs from Cambridge, but didn’t have the ability to maintain eye contact or sustain a conversation for the duration of a job interview. You probably know the sort – all brains and no social skills.

I have no problem with these people. That’s just how some people are wired up. It’s certainly better than the other way around. But the University had a problem, and so they introduced Transferable Skills (TS).

And now, every PhD student is given a Transferable Skills Log Book (TSLB) in which to record thirty “days” of Transferable Skills Log Book Points (TSLBP).

You can earn TSLBP for almost anything: attending courses; sitting on a committee; doing a CUR radio show; being a first aider; something called iTeams (no idea what it is but it’s worth six days, which is great TSLBP). Last year I tried to claim TSLBP for being in a play. They said no. I guess you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Anyway, a good friend and I quickly realised that the easiest way to earn TSLPB is to attend lots of courses (because you don’t have to do anything but sit, which you can do whilst drinking lots of tea).

So, we embarked on a series of courses with such titles as Writing a Report (Very boring and dreadful biscuit selection. 3/10), Planning and Managing a Research Project (A classic. Therein we were encouraged to lie. 8/10), Starting to Present (Funny. Advice included “Try not to fall over while giving a talk”. 6/10) and Brain-Friendly Learning (Starring Wallet Man).

Ah, Brain-Friendly Learning. The name tells you everything you need to know about this course. It’s wishy-washy. It’s over-simplified. It contains almost no practical advice.

And more worryingly, instead of giving us some new teaching and learning techniques, it had the distinct whiff of a new-age religion: a flimsy scientific basis, an extortionate charging structure and some concerning rhetoric.

Here are some actual sentences which the course leader actually actually said:

“We don’t have time for governments or World leaders.”

“We need to put ideas into people’s hearts, not people’s heads.”

“There is a revolution going on. And it’s a good thing.”

“It’s an accepted fact that everyone has multiple intelligences.”

Honestly it felt a bit like a self-help seminar by Majestic-12.

At one point, I think I was encouraged to massage or be massaged by supervision students. Halfway through, the leader played an advert for her own conference. And then, for no reason at all, the leader asked us to stand on the stage and suggest ways to encourage students to produce different levels of neurochemicals (enter Wallet Man, who was possibly trying to give us the neurological feeling of being uneasy, but had possibly just wandered in off the street).

And the whole day ended with the sentence, “So, thanks for coming and… well… have a wonderful rest of your life.”

An image from the Brain Friendly Learning website. According to them, 80 % of our neurons are use for “creating meaning”. Ironically, this ”picture” from their website contains none. It’s not even a picture. It’s just meaningless coloured words.

I don’t know what concerned me more: That this was such a waste of time and money, or that people there were taking it seriously. Am I too sceptical? Or is this stuff really as much nonsense as it would seem?

So, I spoke to a practising teacher to get her take on the educational techniques in Brain-Friendly Learning.

“These new teaching strategies,” she sighed, “They’re ten-a-penny.”

So that was another afternoon wasted. All in the name of Transferable Skills. At some point I might actually get some research done around here.