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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Learning and Trumpet Improvisation

Posted by Michael Urick on Wed, Feb 10, 2021 @ 10:02 AM

My field of study is organizational behavior. Even though my field is not education, researchers in my field still explore concepts related to learning, especially in studies that examine knowledge transfer and knowledge management at work (Nonaka, 2005). People learn differently. How people learn depends in part on the type of knowledge that they receive, but it also depends on personal trends on how individuals experience information.

For example, I’ve played trumpet in the same band for 23 years, but I’ve never been what I consider to be an exceptional soloist. While we have not been performing over the past few months due to COVID, I’ve decided to try to learn more about how to solo more effectively, so I picked up a book on jazz improvisation that looked engaging. I am quickly reminded that the most effective method of learning for me is not reading. While the book is certainly interesting and helpful, it’s not enough for me to just read. I actually need to “do.” If I don’t pick up my horn and try new techniques out quickly, I will forget them.

In some ways, this seems odd because I read a lot. But, I often find myself not retaining all of the material that I read. On the other hand, when I listen to information (and especially when I take notes), it helps me to internalize the material. It helps me remember the new knowledge better. Perhaps this is why I like to write so much – I retain and remember the information that I write about. I also remember information when I present it or teach it to others. And, like picking up my trumpet to improve my improvisation, I learn by doing. What learning method works best for one person does not, of course, work best for everyone.

I recognize that each of my students in any one of my classes also learns differently. This is why I ask them to read, write, present and apply concepts. For example, students in my undergrad HR course listen to my lectures as well as those of industry practitioners, take notes on new information, read from our text, present summaries of related current events and analyze/create real-world HR deliverables via a hands-on simulation assignment. Because they each learn a different way, asking students to do all of these things likely helps to reach multiple types of learning styles present in my classes.

One last note on learning – many types of knowledge transfer (formal classroom education included) focus on examining theories. It’s important to learn theory because it can generalize to many contexts. But remember, each context is also unique. In the social sciences (such as in organizational behavior), very few situations represent a “true” average, so, after understanding a theory, the best way to apply it is by figuring out how it works in your own situation. What are the theory’s limitations? How can it be adapted to your context? Under what conditions does the theory work best? Once you are able to have such a reflection, I believe, is when learning actually occurs. Like a trumpet solo, this is a type of improvisation, and it can benefit each of us to practice it.

What do you think? How do you learn? What works best for you? Get in touch with me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu or connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Dr. Mike Urick


Nonaka, I. (Ed.). (2005). Knowledge management: critical perspectives on business and management (Vol. 2). Taylor & Francis.

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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