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Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of Masters - seek what they sought

Dr Bruce Copley

By Dr Bruce Copley

Reprinted from Training Australia Magazine, Vol 7, No 3, Winter 2007, pg 30-31

The hall is packed with excited young scientists eager to listen and learn from a 3-part lecture series presented by one of the greatest minds ever to grace this planet. A small grey haired man with a chaotic hairstyle walks onto the stage, smiles, greets his audience and asks whether there are any questions. There is a dismayed silence that lingers even after the question about questions is repeated. Receiving no response he softly announces that will continue part 2 of his lecture series the next week…... he quickly leaves his bewildered audience without a backward glance. The next week he returns to a “standing room only” hall and this time there is a flurry of probing questions from those present.

This true story of how ALBERT EINSTEIN transformed uncomfortable uh oh’s into jubilant aaha’s has a timeless message for anyone who is serious about learning and communication. For almost 2 decades as an academic, research scientist and university Professor I was passionately engaged in communicating and transferring information to my students and fellow scientists. During this time it never occurred to me that “information” in whatever form it may be communicated, is only the first step in the learning process. It is quite literally and figuratively “in formation” or in the process of being formed and unless something happens to transform it, its potential will remain dormant. In much the same way a foetus is nurtured into its full expression, it is possible to breathe life into any message, theme, topic or subject.

Communication in its many forms and manifestations always involves conveying some kind of message or story. The resulting impact is always determined by both the sender and the receiver for without a listener, there is no message. In most cases information transfer is supposed to result in some kind of understanding, remembering and learning. In reality what usually happens is illustrated in the cartoon below:

Teaching versus Learning

Anyone who has been to school, college or university, listened to a motivational speaker or sat through a PowerPoint presentation, knows that with few exceptions, most if not all the information conveyed is quickly forgotten and rarely applied. Few would dispute the fact that the old educational paradigm, which is characterised by mechanistic, linear thinking, has unwittingly:

  • Fragmented and disconnected subjects, information and people.
  • Filled rather than opened minds.
  • Fostered dependency and learned helplessness.
  • Promoted a "listen - memorise - regurgitate" mindset.

The following thought provoking questions by T.S. Elliott are as applicable today as when he penned them many years ago:

Where is the Life we have lost in Living?
Where is the Wisdom we have lost in Knowledge?
Where is the Knowledge we have lost in Information?

If you happen to be a speaker/conference agent, a professional communicator/presenter or an enthusiastic learner/student, I urge you to consider how you may be either consciously or unconsciously, limiting the quality and effectiveness of your communication, networking and/or learning by:

  • Using an almost exclusive or 1-way communication approach with little or no emphasis on dialogue, discussion, questions or answers.
  • Throwing answers like stones at the heads of those who have not yet asked the questions. Assuming knowledge of the specific needs/goals of the learner/client and in this way blatantly ignoring the principle and practice of customer service
  • Bombarding delegates with masses of information facts and figures that are forgotten very quickly and consequently cannot be recalled or applied.
  • Creating and promoting a passive audience who take little or no responsibility for their own learning, needs or questions.
  • Blissfully ignoring the fact that the Internet can easily, rapidly and cheaply provide masses of information on virtually any theme, topic or subject.
  • Failing to recognise that unless the methods/techniques used to convey a message go way beyond the mere transfer of information into the realms of contextualising, integrating, applying and most importantly remembering then obtaining the required information from sources such as the internet, books, videos and/or libraries would be much more cost and time efficient than having to attend a talk or conference.
  • Getting stuck with old and tired ways of learning, teaching and communicating and never stopping to consider that there could be much better ways of operating.
  • Asking yourself why relevant and effective " ice breakers " as opposed to “big freeze” tactics are used so infrequently.
  • Why we persist in seating people in rows instead of in circles that are much more user friendly. Think about the atmosphere created in a stadium and what would happen if you invited friends to your house and placed your dinning room and lounge chairs in rows.
  • Why education/training is generally much more teacher/trainer focused than “learner centered
  • Why the large majority of our educational and training systems from pre-school to doctorate level creates and perpetuate a paradigm riddled with stress, busyness and workaholism.

The well know statement by Einstein that the problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them is a stark reminder of the need to think outside the box. My work with tens of thousands of people has consistently demonstrated that by using a holistic approach that involves the whole person(mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially) it is possible to accelerate learning, deepen understanding, contextualise information and foster practical application. The importance of systemic or holistic thinking in which the emphasis is on contexts, relationships and wholes is being increasing acknowledged in the fields of science, medicine, psychology, business and education. The father of modern holism and the fist to coin the term was Jan Smuts the South African statesman. His ideas and visions were so advanced that it has taken almost 70 years for them to be fully recognised and understood in the modern world.

The collapse of communism and apartheid has shown that profound socio-political changes can occur peacefully when a critical mass of people realise that the old must give way to the new. Radical paradigmatic shifts like these often stimulate changes in other areas in need of renewal and rebirth. While there are promising ripples of change occurring in our educational system, there are still large sections of the population using old and tired educational and training approaches.

Holistic education prepares people for a world in flux, a world where reasoning, creativity and vision are of paramount importance. This new approach to education and learning calls attention to the neglected aspects of the human condition, explores hitherto unknown and undiscovered human capacities and asks questions seldom, or never, posed by traditionalists. The power of Holistic education is succinctly described in a quote by Eric Butterworth :

" When the ties of learning and the chains of conditioning that bind the human mind and heart again and again, are loosed and a person is introduced finally to himself, the real self that has no limitation, then the bells of heaven ring for joy and we are thrust forward into a grand rendezvous with life."


Dr Bruce Copley, former University Professor of Sports Science, is an internationally acclaimed holistic educator who has inspired tens of thousands of people to rediscover their lost love of learning. Described as a real life version of the teacher in the award winning film "Dead Poets Society" Bruce creates unforgettable learning experiences for people ranging from pre-schoolers to senior citizens. He brings a fresh and profound approach to Holism grounded in his own awakened awareness and fuelled by a passion to rekindle in others the freedom and fullness that is their innate birthright. He draws no sharp distinction between his mind and his body, his labour and his leisure and his teaching and his learning. He is content to pursue his visions of excellence through whatever he is doing leaving others the question whether he is playing or working... to himself he always appears to be doing both. His two ongoing challenges in life are to walk his talk and to hold his visions lightly.

For further information please Contact AAHA Learning.

Dr Bruce Copley recently delivered a keynote address and a workshop at our annual International LearnX Asia Pacific 2007 Conference in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. This is the largest and most prestigious training event in Australia incorporating more than 70 speakers and 350 delegates from all over the world. Bruce proved to be a superb communicator, an energetic speaker and an excellent consultant. He was a breath of fresh air and had a very positive impact on the conference overall. The majority of the attendees rated Dr Copley’s contribution as the “highlight” of the event.” Rob Clarke, Conference Organiser and Editor of “Training Australia” Magazine.