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I used to have a saying, “When you walk on the edge, sometimes you fall off” and had bruises and scratches to prove it.  But as we get older, we get more afraid of the prospect.

Enter an online video talk by the Scottish educational researcher Alistair Smith who argues that we must move to the edges of our comfort zones.  Please watch if you are connected in any way with learning.  I can’t embed it here, because it isn’t on youtube, but here’s the link for later: http://www.dolectures.com/lectures/why-we-need-to-change-how-we-learn/

This felt similar to an idea I explored to in my blog a few days ago about Uncertainty. Click and consider my representation of your comfort zone.

If you hang out in the of the middle of the circle, there is a lot to protect you. The space between the centre and the edge is buffered by certainty.  You hang out with the same people, doing the same things and listening to the same music.  Maybe you even keep the same haircut.  There is nothing unpredictable, and as result, there is nothing new for you to learn.  You, and all your assumptions, stay safe.

Smith pushes us to the edge of our comfort zones so that real learning can take place. Challenging us not to hold back because we’re afraid of looking silly, making a mistake or getting things wrong.  This entails risk. We may not like what we see if we go to a different kind of film, or eat at a new restaurant.  What if you check out a random book at the library or spark a conversation with a stranger?  All of these simple things make us feel uncomfortable because we don’t know how it is going to turn out.

Just as important, is finding a way to encourage other people to move the edge of their comfort zones.  This is why Smith advocates that we praise progress and not perfection.  This is true at home or work or school.  We spend a lot of time teaching kids to be risk adverse from a very young age but how can we encourage them to engage in meaningful learning if they aren’t prepared to make mistakes?

So as you are walking through your day, think about what your comfort zone looks like and the things you are using to stack your deck.  Is there anything you can do to move yourself closer to edge?

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