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Holistic Learning Page Title
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Holistic Learning

holistic learning pyramid

Engage the mind - Touch the heart
- Feed the soul

Publicity notice, Edinburgh International Festival 2005

The term 'holistic learning' signifies an approach to learning which is predominantly 'whole person', i.e. it seeks to engage fully all aspects of the learner - mind, body and spirit. (See also Whole Brain.) The underlying holistic principle is that a complex organism functions most effectively when all its component parts are themselves functioning and co-operating effectively. And this idea relates very closely to the concept of synergy, with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. In terms of mainstream education a 'whole person' approach to learning is much more likely to be observed within the sensory-rich nursery or primary school activity room than in the intellect-dominated university lecture theatre.

John Heron's Model of Holistic Learning

In my Brainware workshops I used a model of holistic learning closely based on a scheme devised by John Heron, Founder of the Human Potential Research Project. This powerful model presents learning as an interaction between four distinct modes of psychological being: feeling, imaginal, thinking and practical. These are normally represented in the form of a pyramid, as above, with feeling at the base and practical at the top. And so what is especially unusual about the model is that feeling is presented as our fundamental mode, rather than thinking. This contrasts sharply with much of mainstream traditional education, where cognitive thinking and the pursuit of intellectual competence have the pre-eminent role. The significance of this alternative orientation is that the crucial requirement for each learner is to establish a relationship with their total learning situation which is intimate, resonant and positive (i.e. in the feeling mode). Only when this is firmly in place is it considered that the learner will be free to tap fully into the other three modes of the learning model, viz. imaginal, thinking and practical.

Within the context of my workshops I put some flesh on the bones of this model by associating a 'creature' icon and a distinctive colour (as above) with each of the modes. Thus, when the learner is functioning optimally he or she is viewed as combing the best qualities of Buddha (feeling, red), Chinese dragon (imaginal, green), dalek (thinking, blue) and bee (practical, yellow). And I linked the creative process to the model by just four words. Thus, you first need to Relax (feeling), and then Dream (imaginal), Think (thinking) and finally Act (practical). To see the four icons which I used, click here.

Further Information

John Heron's model of holistic learning is explored fully in his Helping whole people learn.

For information about holism generally see:

Background on Jan Smuts, Father of Holism

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Page last modified: 1 October 2009
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