Hand, Head, and Heart techniques in cooperative education

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What role do people’s head, hands, and heart play in their development and education? If I read about or watch a video on how to fix my stove, I gain an intellectual understanding of the technique. If I pull out my toolbox and start fiddling with the stove, I gain real-world practice and the ability to apply my theoretical knowledge. If my stove is broken and I need to bake bread, I really care about fixing it and will keep trying to learn more and apply it more until I succeed in fixing it.

Using Head, Hand, and Heart in Cooperative Education

When designing a learning experience, you can start with any of the three elements, but it’s best to make use of all three:

  • Head: cognitive understanding, critical thinking; learning through readings, lecture, discussion, etc.
  • Hand: psychomotor, practice, learning by doing, getting a feel for how things actually work
  • Heart: affective/emotive, caring about the results, valuing the outcome, feeling that the process and goals are important, experiencing a personal connection
  • Why they go together: effective teaching through engaging students’ heads will produce knowledge, but unless students put their learning into practice, they won’t fully understand what they have learned, and won’t know how to apply it. They will only make the effort to fully understand and put into practice what they learned if they feel that it is truly important to them and something that they care about.

In a cooperative context, people may feel indifferent to learning about, say, governance structures, unless they have directly experienced or hear a testimonial from someone who has contended with a situation in which poor governance structures led to great difficulties, even perhaps the failure of a co-op that would otherwise have been providing needed benefits to members. So an approach that integrates head, hands, and heart would let students learn about different types of governance structures, begin to work out how to apply one or another to their own situation, and share stories of governance structures that supported or undermined their co-ops’ missions.


Some people would add that the "heart" dimension also applies to ethics and morals, or evaluating what you are learning for. Will you be able to use your knowledge to make the world a better place? Does the teaching align with your values? Through learning, can you empathize more with different people's situations?

For More Information

See an interesting article about engaging head, hands and heart in transformative sustainability learning, by Sipos, Battisti, and Grimm:

Here are two diagrams from that article:

Handheadheart circles.PNG

Headhandheart triangle.PNG

See Also