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  • Writer's pictureGeorgiana Cecil

Mastering Life Skills Through "Learning by Doing": Lessons from a Dog's Journey

In the bustling world of education, where the focus often leans heavily on academic achievements and hard skills, the value of soft life skills is sometimes overshadowed. Yet, these skills—such as communication, adaptability, problem-solving, and teamwork—are crucial for navigating the complexities of life. Interestingly, the age-old principle of learning by doing, akin to teaching a dog a new trick, offers profound insights into how we can cultivate these skills in the classroom.

The Canine Classroom: A Metaphor for Learning

Consider the process of teaching a dog to sit or roll over. This doesn't happen through verbal instruction alone. It's a hands-on experience, involving guidance, patience, practice and treats.... The dog learns through doing—through attempts, failures, and eventual success, which in turn they get rewarded for mainly with chicken and praise. This method of learning is not only effective for acquiring new tricks but is also immensely valuable for developing life's soft skills.

In much the same way, when students are engaged in learning by doing, they are not merely absorbing information; they are actively applying it. This application, often through projects, group work, or real-world challenges, requires them to navigate various social dynamics, make decisions, and adapt to new information—thereby honing their soft life skills in a natural and meaningful way. They may not get or in fact want chicken at the end but what they do get is a chance to build their confidence as they grow.

The Value of Learning by Doing in Developing Soft Skills

Communication and Teamwork  - Just as a dog learns to understand and respond to its owner's commands, students learn to articulate ideas and work collaboratively through projects that require them to present, discuss, and negotiate. These activities mirror real-life interactions, preparing students for the workplace and community involvement.

Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking - Faced with a challenge, a dog experiments with different approaches until it finds one that works - this can be called Shaping if you want to get technical. Similarly, project-based learning encourages students to think critically, experiment, and find solutions to complex problems. This process of trial and error builds resilience and flexibility—qualities essential for personal and professional success.

Adaptability and Persistence - Teaching a dog a new trick often involves adapting the teaching method to the dog's learning style, one dog might do anything for a bit of food, the other a toy. In the classroom, engaging in diverse, hands-on activities allows students to discover their learning preferences and adapt to various situations. This adaptability equips students to handle the uncertainties of the future with confidence.



The value of learning by doing extends far beyond the acquisition of academic knowledge or technical skills. It plays a critical role in developing the soft life skills that are essential for success in an ever-changing world. Just as a dog learns best through direct experience, so do young people. By embracing this approach, we can help prepare  students not just for tests and grades, but for life itself.

For anyone curious about the scholarly pursuits of my own two dogs Burghley and Dottie, let's just say they've mastered the essentials – and by "essentials," I mean they've nailed down the art of being adorably clueless in the most sophisticated way.

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