Learning does not imply training

In 2001, a young African boy called William Kamkwamba built a windmill. His story has become known worldwide as an example of triumph over adversity and the ability of man to innovate in his own circumstances. It is also a story that highlights the first assumption of Infinite Learning © = You don’t need formal training to learn.


William came from a family of farmers in Malawi. When drought struck in 2001, they had neither food nor money. William’s family could no longer afford to send him to school. Hungry for learning and dissatisfied with his lot, William went to the library to continue learning by himself. It was there that he found books on science and, later, a book about windmills. Realising that these wonderful machines could delivery electricity and pump water, William aged 14 decided he had to build one.


Where do you start building windmills? In Belgium, I would go to Brico and ask the expert for a plan, all necessary materials and a nice IKEA-style guide to building my machine. William had to rely on 3 of the most natural resources: motivation, initiative and time. While he set to looking for useful materials in local dumping grounds, his friends and family thought he was crazy, wasting his time. When he adding the finishing touches to his windmill, the villagers stood and watched, ready to mock him for his folly. When the windmill turned and the light-bulb in his hut came to life, they ran away …to get their mobile phones chargers!


William’s approach to learning, growing and innovating is a flagship story for learning and development people in modern organisations. It reminds us of the first truth of Infinite Learning: You don’t need formal training to learn. Whilst the Googles and 3Ms of the world know that motivation, initiative and time are enough to bring about such learning, change and innovation, many other organisations have the attitude of William’s family, friends and village neighbours: If you try to learn and change without formal training you are crazy and wasting your time.



Watch William’s talk at TED here

If you would like more information about Infinite Learning © contact me

About Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

Posted on April 7, 2011, in Learning Management. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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