I guess learning isn't that important. We only engage in it nearly every day since we're 6. Well perhaps since birth. Such an esoteric activity that only concerns the few.
We're asked to learn and expected to do it well without ever being taught how to. There seem to be classes for nearly everything else though: History, Literature, Math, English, but not for the skill that allows us to learn these subjects in the first place. We are expected to teach this skill to ourselves. Learn it along the way.
No wonder so many students struggle with learning for so many years. If I was put on the road and given a license without anyone to guide me, I would probably suffer from mistakes that might have made me hate driving. Or maybe develop bad habits that would require many years of correction, or worse, won’t be corrected at all.
Learning from experience is good, it’s even necessary, but guidance is needed. No one expects you to come up with calculus by yourself the way Newton or Leibniz did. You’re guided through what we know so far. The same should be with learning.
Science and experience give us insight into how learning works and although different styles can apply to different people, there are universal guidelines that should be taught. For example, 10 hours of learning per week, are less effective if done all in one day than if divided.
Understanding the mechanisms behind learning can greatly benefit learners: The way learned materials build one on another, what role sleep plays and how lack of concentration impairs the quality of learning. Understanding gives us the “Why” to the “How”, and in mentally effortful tasks (such as learning), motivation, and drive are highly important.
There are known learning strategies and thinking frameworks that can help learners develop their learning styles. Well, one could say we develop our learning style the way things are now as well, however, after educating ourselves about learning we will produce better results. As in every subject.
Therefore there should be a place where we’ll get educated on learning. I suggest inserting it as a class to schools. There are classes for almost everything else and in this modern era, almost no class is too bizarre if it serves a purpose and shows results. So, several times a week, students should attend a learning-class. for how many years should this class be going? It depends on the time it takes to cover the different topics considering the maturity of students.
Learning the physical activity of writing is usually done in a year, math usually in 12 but can be continued to 30 or more years, depends on how deep you want to go. Considering the depth of the subject and how much knowledge we wish to transfer, we should construct a curriculum that spans the needed amount of time.
What can be learned in such a class? Here are some ideas for theory and practice:
Effective Learning techniques:
Known effective (and ineffective) ways to learn. Right now it seems like we’re letting each student “explore” their way. One might say total freedom. I say negligence. We should educate students about what we know so far about learning and let them practice it. Let them compare it with less effective ways and see how it feels doing both. After exploring those strategies, they can start forming their style.
If we continue with the driving analogy, there are more and less effective ways to do that as well. An example, while driving stick, constantly touching the clutch pedal will result in shortening the life of the clutch, forcing you to replace it much sooner. This is avoidable and ineffective. I didn’t know it until it was explained to me. It saved me time and money since it was a habit I started forming.
Learning is tied to how we think about the subject and there are frameworks for thinking as well. These can also go under the “effective techniques” category. The goal here is to develop the mind and enrich it with tools we know have a good chance of working and not limiting or boxing the mind. Finding advancements in a field usually comes from a place of deep knowledge and not lack-of. Meaning, education about known methods should not limit the students’ minds but fuel it for further expansion.
Habits are so powerful that the habit to sit down and study can get you through college without even doing it well. Of course one should know what good habits look like before sticking to them. A fair question is “What good habits even are in this context?”. I would say that good habits improve our learning and don’t damage other parts of our lives.
Developing good habits takes time and practice. In a learning-class, we can build such habits through the years and see how they help students in other subjects as well. A good class will also reflect on the students’ difficulties and thoughts. It will help students recognize the formation of bad habits and work with the students to correct them.
The theory behind learning:
Why is sleep important? Should we take breaks during learning? How does concentration work? Why do we feel more comfortable learning certain subjects? What is the science behind gamification? How does retention work? Why do we even forget? Why do I get tired when I study? All questions that a fair amount of theory can address.
Learning is at the intersection of several fields: biology, psychology, chemistry, anatomy and probably more. Giving students a glimpse into each, in the context of learning, can greatly help them. First, it will give students the background behind all the practical things they’re doing. Also, it will serve as a fruitful soil for developing new ideas and personal style. A good theoretical basis will help students ask the next important questions.
Overall state and progress:
Learning-class should monitor closely how students function in other classes. As a group and as individuals. Some subjects may present greater challenges for us and learning-class should be the place to address it. Working through these hurdles can decrease attitudes such as “so I guess I’m just not a math person!”. I’m not saying all students should love math, I'm saying they should know they can do it.
Many other topics can be covered such as the role of effort in learning, the different levels of comprehension, the similarities between different subjects (in the context of learning them), the skill of finding good learning resources, how to properly read a book or take a course and more. I’ll try to elaborate on some in future posts and I encourage you to do the same in the brainstorming area.
If there should be a learning-class, where we wish to achieve depth, there should be dedicated teachers as well. Learning professionals. As mentioned above learning involves many different fields. One should dedicate a fair amount of time to know it well enough to teach. Just like in any other subject taught today in the education system.
This task should not fall on other teachers. Just as you don't expect a biology teacher to teach history, a math teacher shouldn't teach learning. Other teachers can help enforce good practice if they're knowledgeable but learning should be taught by learning professionals.
Learning professionals will have a very important role in accompanying students through school and higher education. They’ll lay a better infrastructure for future advancement. Better learning abilities means reaching deeper and faster, which will help us go beyond what we currently know and into new territories. Just as dirt roads limited our transportation, the current way of learning limits our efficiency towards knowledge and it will be learning professionals that build these new roads.
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