Listening as a part of Learning?

Uppsala University

Today schools are a major part of any young people’s life; in fact I have myself spent a majority of my life in the educational system as a subject to surprisingly few variations of teaching methods. What surprises me even more is how large amounts of the learning and intellectual development has been primarily taught through different books and oral expression. Almost all classes I have been in have been using books as the major source for intellectual development. Students are encouraged to read and write, often in the combination of reading something and then writing about it.


The main channel of communication that is being used in the academic world is the academic language, partly on the expense of art. (Robinson, 2010) The academic language often includes the ability to orally express, discuss and argument for different perspectives in a vast variety of subjects. As students we are asked to express ourselves through variations of words and languages, as long as they are written or verbal. The arts and musical expressions are often left out all together from the process of understanding a subject (Robinson, 2010). What strikes me is that we are all urged to express ourselves through speech or writing but rarely taught how to listen to each other. This equation does not seem to add up as far as I can see. It contributes to a world where everyone is speaking and no one is listening (Mankell, 2011). Still students are supposed to learn to solve conflicts and interact successfully with one another. If the value of actively listening is not promoted in education, then how can we expect people to understand the importance of listening?
I have spent a majority of my life in school and not until recently I have learnt how to actively listen to someone. It turns out there are actual techniques and skills to develop when listening (Lindh & Lisper, 1990). I can not help wondering how it is possible to go through the educational system all the way to university without learning how to listen actively, especially considering how much of the education that is built on this. Listening is more then just hearing, it is a deliberate process to understand and interpret what is being said by someone else (Burton & Dimbleby, 2005). My experience is that even music classes often neglect listening; something that I might suspect would strike most people as odd. I spent over 11 years in music school and rarely heard about the art of listening at all. When learning an instrument you often get a book with instructions to read of how to use and play your instrument, although music class tends to be one of the most practical lectures in school. In this sense the classes often focus on how to produce sound, and not what sound is and how to interpret and feel it. Music is a lot more than playing an instrument or singing physically, it is also about listening. As an adult I have understood that listening is more than just hearing what someone says, or getting sound-waves in to my ears. (Evelyn Glennie, 2003) Listening is something we actively must do and feel and that is crucial for the interaction and understanding of others (Burton & Dimbleby, 2006).
Working on different projects and in different academic settings listening is not self evident. According to my experience, group meetings does not rarely consist of several strong willed people talking over each other unaware of what is actually being said.
Lately working on a project with members from several different countries, I have yet again been reminded to actively listen to what is being said, to help overcome cultural differences and language difficulties.
Strange enough active listening skills are not mentioned once in the desired outcomes of the official curriculum in Swedish language at high school level (Skolverket, 2012). So how do we expect future leaders to deal with a more intercultural and complex reality, facing environmental challenges and exponential growth without learning how to listen?


Lindh, G & Lisper, H-O (1990), Samtal för förändring, Lund: Studentlitteratur AB.
Robinson, K. (2010) Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative, West Sussex: Capstone Publishing Ltd.
Burton, G. & Dimbleby, R. (2006) Between ourselves – An introduction to Interpersonal Communication, Third edition. London: Hodder Arnold.
Evelyn Glennie: How to truly listen | Video on, 2003. .

Mankell, H., 2011. In Africa, the Art of Listening. The New York Times.

Skolverket, 2012. Ämnes – och läroplaner: Svenska.


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