Catalysing learning?

Will this be the title of my next book, now that the Toolkit (see posts a few below) is completed? Or will it be a discussion on the web?

Catalysts tend to be expensive, and precious. That’s why catalytic converters often get nicked from cars. One definition of a catalyst is along the lines of ‘something that accelerates a process, remaining more or less unchanged by the process’. Straightaway, however, this doesn’t quite apply to learning, as everyone who is intimately involved in making learning happen does not remain unchanged (hopefully). But whatever we do to help learning to take place, we could regard ourselves as catalysts to the process – making it faster (that’s kinetics), more complete (that’s about the position of equilibrium), less arduous (possibly by reducing the activation energy needed to get the learning under way), more fun, the extensions to the metaphor are endless.

The main thing in my mind at the moment is that not just teachers, but everyone who helps learning to happen can think of themselves as catalysts to the process. And like catalysts, our role is intimately involved in the process, not just as bystanders or observers. We can even hope to help initiate a chain reaction, where after we’re not needed in the process, and learners carry on under their own steam. Also, like catalysts, we can play our part over and over again with different learners. Also like catalysts, we can succumb to being ‘poisoned’ and having our effectiveness and efficiency impaired.

It’s not just kinetics of course – nothing is. Thermodynamics are necessarily involved. We can think of learners’ motivation states involving wanting to learn and needing to learn, for example. We can play our part in increasing both of these motivation states, as well as causing pathways whereby the motivation can be harnessed by learners and result in successful learning (and confidence and self-esteem).

Now this is just a start in my thinking linking catalysis, kinetics and thermodynamics to helping learning to be successful. I’m hoping lots of readers might wish to chip in with all sorts of related ideas, and that’s why I’ve posted this today and tweeted a link. Please do email me at with thought and reactions, or tweet to @RacePhil.