If a person enrolls in a course that they are trying for a first time, or trying to learn a new skill, that should be applauded. But what happens when that person finds themselves in a group of people that are on another plane of knowledge or skill level?
I think we are presented with 2 choices. We can either accept them at their current skill level or suggest an alternative.
Acceptance. Who doesn’t want to be accepted? Nobody! We all want to belong to something, to become a member. But membership has it’s consequences, and not just to the recipient. If you have a bunch of A+ players and then accept a C- player, they may fit in fine at first because it’s really exciting and new. Once the novelty and initial enthousiasm wear off, the challenge will seem less achievable. The Curiosity Gap shouldn’t be so large that it is not achievable. A goal must be within reach. So this learner will soon become frustrated. The others in the group will also become frustrated with the slow pace of the learning and the review of material they are already familiar with. If the gap between the learning levels is manageable you may be able to use more senior level learners to aid in teaching to engage them on a higher level while still engaging the new learners too. But what is the gap is too large?
Encouragement. Our future is our own responsibility. The learner that has gotten in over their head is ultimately responsible to find an avenue better suited to their learning level. But that doesn’t mean that the only alternative for the instructor is to say ‘you don’t have the knowledge required to be here, off you go.’ I think we need to look at the differences in perspective between the learner and the instructor to fully appreciate the situation. The learner has sought out this group/class/whatever, because they looked for something related to their interests and found it. Those searchers and re-searchers out there are just following the bread crumbs. The instructor has presumably been in the discipline for a while and is more aware of the lay of the land. It would make sense that as instructors we could appreciate our different vantage point and provide some insight on alternative learning solutions. A class at the Y, a good book, or a local meet-up group.
We all have a social responsibility to give sound guidance when we are able to give it. Especially if you know what you’re talking about. We’d all appreciate it.