Artichokes & the reflections of learning for purpose: Learning sticks when it fits

“Lifelong learner”, I first recall hearing the term 15 years ago, the importance of having a commitment to learning for life. It resonated. This idea has led us to think more broadly about learning, beyond job skills and job readiness to embracing the philosophy that learning is an essential element of an enriched life.

Last week we ran a two-day workshop for educators. The pace was relaxed and self-directed and the participants were passionate. We had ‘experts’ on hand as reference and the participants could dip in and out as they required. They were free to grab a coffee, check email and stop for lunch as they needed to. After some input sessions on the first day, the participants could then direct their own learning path for the second day. They had the opportunity to develop new ideas to take back to their own school. The learners drove the agenda.

In whatever categories we may fit – as student, employee, leader, curious-amateur, passionate enthusiast – the learning sticks when it fits, both us and the context. I have been reflecting on myself as a learner over this weekend.

I am a vegetable enthusiast, not a vegetarian. I find the variety, colour, shapes and flavours of vegetable provide so much opportunity for culinary creativity. As I walked through my fruit and vegetable market yesterday I noticed the artichokes – “2 for $5”. I don’t even know if that was a good deal, nor whether they were just $2.50 anyway. Nevertheless, on a whim I bought two, of course. Globe artichokes must be one of the weirdest looking vegetables. Not to be confused with Jerusalem Artichokes, which are a member of the tuber family, they are green and purple and a member of the thistle family. This is what Stephanie Alexander says in The Cooks Companion:

Artichokes have a reputation of being tricky to prepare and fiddly to eat. As a result, many food lovers have yet to tackle the boiled artichoke. The flavour is quite unlike anything else.

Prior to my whim in the fruit and vegetable market I hadn’t read what Stephanie wrote – but I that was exactly how I felt. I came home, looked at the two thistles and worked out, my *personal learning plan. (*By the way, at the time I didn’t think I was going to write about cooking artichokes, but it is interesting to reflect on how I tackled the problem.)

My first reference was Stephanie Alexander’s weighty tome, with the by-line “The complete book of ingredients for the Australian kitchen”. This is a classic, about 7cm/3 inches thick. The first edition, written in 1996 is arranged by chapters based on ingredients – more than 100. The book is great on detail for each ingredient – varieties, seasons, selection, storage, preparation and recipes. My favourite part in each chapter is “[Ingredient] goes with…” listing all the things that work and enabling me to be creative with whatever I have on hand.

While the depth of detail in Stephanie’s book is immense, it is a ‘text’ book, in the true sense. I needed a visual to be able to know what to do. Where to next? YouTube, of course. I watched a few videos on preparing, cooking and serving artichokes. Then to Google for a few recipe ideas and finally, once I had a picture of what to do, I returned to The Cook’s Companion. Then to work. I decided to cook each one differently – one baked, one boiled – to look at the difference. The baked had garlic cloves secreted inside along with lemon and oil, before wrapping tightly in aluminium foil. The boiled, was just boiled for 15 minutes. I served them with vinaigrette, explained to spouse how to eat and we enjoyed the somewhat messy experience. 

On reflection, what did I observe about my learning process?

  • Passion drove the need to learn
  • Authentic learning occurred when there was meaning/purpose
  • Know how I learn to maximise the outcome
  • Self-directed and self-paced meant I could process the information in my own time
  • Relied on a trusted reference for information
  • Check other untested sources against the trusted reference
  • Dive in. What’s the worst that can happen?
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • A sense of fulfilment from enjoying the process and achieving the goal.



It’s critical that we have a professional learning environment that encourages educators to be lifelong learners. The terms passion projects, problem-based learning and flipped learning apply within the professional learning context. The learning sticks when it fits. So what do we do about the  one-size-fits-all PD that is presented to educators, serving a growth industry through the necessary, but narrowly focused PD regulatory frameworks that exist within many jurisdictions? @anneknock





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