A recipe for success… Learning essentials and The Great British Bake Off

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bread lion

It’s impossible to miss the phenomena that is Great British Bake Off as Mel and Sue and baking veteran Mary Berry and silver fox Paul Hollywood put the hopefuls through their paces.

Soggy bottoms, lion shaped loaves and melting mousses are a regular topic for debate in the UFA offices and team members already have their favourites lined up for the prestigious title.

No doubt when this season’s winner is crowned, they will talk about their journey and what they have learnt along the way, but is the heated atmosphere of the Bake Off tent the right atmosphere for learning?

The UFA team has spent nearly 20 years creating a set of 10 Learning Essentials, which we believe create the best recipe (excuse the pun) for success. But how does Great British Bake Off measure up against them?

First let’s look at where GBBO ticks the right boxes.

  • Learning is active – Every episode GBBO clearly demonstrates that bakers improve by doing (with a lot of practice at home from the sounds of things). Getting hands on, rather than reading a recipe book makes the learning stick.
  • Each learner is unique – Each technical bake reinforces this on every episode. Give twelve people the same set of ingredients and tools and the same instructions and they will each come up with something completely unique to them.
  • A learner’s potential is unknowable – Whether it’s the bread dough lion or the fire engine biscuit basket, each showstopper or signature bake pushes the boundaries of each contestant’s skills. Very often they seem more surprised than the judges at what they have managed to achieve. How far they will go given the right kitchen (or learning environment) is unmeasurable.
  • Goal setting, reviewing and reflecting secures the learning – At the end of each episode, the moment of reflection from star bakers and those who narrowly missed losing is a great reminder of what the importance of setting a goal, reviewing the activity and reflecting on what went well and what ended up being flat as a pancake.

But there are some areas where the learning recipe gets mixed up.

  • Learning is social – despite what seems to be a generally positive and mutually supportive environment, there is many a moment when contestants look around desperately trying to work out if they are doing the right thing, but can’t ask their peers for advice or guidance. Unlike Masterchef, where chefs work in a team and learn in a professional kitchen, GBBO doesn’t allow any room for sharing.
  • Emotions are central to the learning process – Feeling good about your achievements and the environment around you supporting you in that is fundamental to learning. Being judged three times a weekend and only being as good as your last bake isn’t conducive to that.
  • A positive mind set allows learners to achieve more – Again, the anxiety created by the judging and the fear of a collapsing showstopper or an under proved loaf doesn’t reinforce a positive mindset – particularly when the threat of failure looms so large.
  • Unconditional respect is part of the learning process – unconditional respect is something we at UFA think works both ways and despite the reverence the contestants hold Paul and Mary in, their harsh judgement doesn’t always reflect that. It’s clearly about judging, not about facilitating learning.

And when GBBO’s recipe for learning falls flat?

  • Each one should teach one – we believe each student teaching someone else helps to cement the learning. Difficult to do in a TV show, we know, but many contestants do go on to teach baking, providing a further springboard for their learning
  • The best learning environments are high in challenge and low in threat – ultimately the real reason why GBBO fails as a learning environment. It’s a competition and there can only be one winner, judged on their skills, not how far they have travelled. And despite the enviable and extensive skills of Paul and Mary there’s little or no opportunity to learn from them during the process of baking. Just at the end when there is no room to learn from any mistakes or from anyone else.

GBBO might not be a recipe for learning, but it is great TV and we are (dough) hooked. Our money is on Mat!

Matt from GBBO

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