The History of Learning and What is Success?

In the time that humans were hunters and gathers, children were used in the realm of work and the education component included much in the way of work and play.  As the Industrial Revolution began, children became enslaved and play started to disappear.  They were sent to work in the agriculture fields and the manufacturing plants during the Industrial age to meet the needs of the lords and the landowners.  During the 17th century, the education system evolved into a structure that is somewhat reflective of what we know learning to be today.  The church stepped in because they wanted children to be able to read.  The learning was frequently done through inculcation and again, fun and play were replaced by hard work and repetition.  Into the 19th century tests and exams were set up to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the training (Grey, 2008).

When we think about education today, there are so many factors that affect the students’ ability to meet the expectations of the educators.  One of the biggest challenges that students face is comparing themselves to other students.  Am I smart? do I have friends? How do I fit in? Each of these questions brings a comparison of ourselves and our scholastic abilities to our peers. This is called the social comparison theory which can create in the student a sense of ‘I need to try harder’ if the differences are not too great.  It can also be completely defeating if the student doesn’t feel capable and the gap is too great (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012).

As a career coach who works with people in recovery, I frequently see the defeatist attitude in my clients around education because they never felt like they fit in.  Their home environments were unstable and unsupportive which caused low self-esteem.  This carried forward into their school environment, where their esteem issues brought forth the self-fulfilling prophecy.  The teachers and other students have a low expectation of these students which would help to maintain an unsupportive learning environment.  They would get left behind and drop out of school, or if they were lucky, graduate with marginal marks.  According to the research of Rosenthal and Jacobson’s, Pygmalion in the Classroom, teachers unwittingly contributed to the betterment of the perceived, engaged students.  This also exacerbated the experience of those who were not engaged for the teacher, which ultimately contributed to the demise of the disengaged student (Schneider et al., 2012).

Today I spend my time with my clients to help them see the value and contribution that they can potentially bring to the community.  We look at the areas that the client has felt successful and put our energy into identifying an employment direction that will create a sense of satisfaction for them.  According to Ken Robinson in his book Finding Your Element How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, (2013) he focuses on three key principals to create these successful outcomes.  These principals include; 1) Your life is unique, 2) Create your own life and 3) Your life is organic.  My work is doing exactly this, helping each client to see the experiences that they have had and how their experience can inform their opportunities going forward.  They create their life by setting goals that allow them to match their yet to be filled desires.  Often this is about returning to school and finding the right supports in the educational system to set them up for success.  When they focus on their strengths in education they are successful which helps to rebuild their self-esteem which perpetuates their re-creation.  Finally, we talk about how the process is organic, and that being open to something that they had not anticipated can further set them up for success.  One of the other key messages of Ken Robinson’s book is that the education system can inhibit our creativity because we are expected to follow this linear model.  But life doesn’t always work like that.

Behind us are the days of laborious work and education during the industrial age that created compliance amongst children.  We are moving into a time where education is the currency of success and this currency is inflated.  A bachelor’s degree used to get you a solid well-paying job but now a master’s degree is often the minimum requirement.   To this end, our schools need to develop strategies that don’t ostracise the learner who has still not found out how to fit.  They need to create a learning environment that focuses’ on the learner’s strengths which creates a sense of success.  In using my clients’ strengths they have been able to move past their attitude of defeat to a space of “I am interested and engaged, I can see my way to success”.


Grey, P., PhD (2008, August 20). A Brief History of Education. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from

Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2013). Finding your element: Living a life of passion and purpose. New York: Viking.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.


1 comment

  1. I appreciate your work of taking students who are lacking or are in need of a supportive learning environment and helping them set goals in order to succeed. Your students or clients have likely already come to you with preconceived notions of school and learning that had previously interfered with goal-setting and mastery. Educational psychologists have found that student’s unique interpretations of the educational context shape their beliefs, behaviors, and emotions surrounding education. By changing the previously perceived school climate, or psychological environment to tone that is more supportive of their autonomy and goals, you are likely improving their ability to create motivational goals, competency, and overall academic engagement (Ruzek & Schenke, 2018). Great post!


    Ruzek, E. A., & Schenke, K. (2018). The tenuous link between classroom perceptions and motivation: A within-person longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, doi:

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