How knowledge is absorbed, processed & retained
Learning theories: conceptual frameworks describing how knowledge is absorbed, processed, and retained during learning. Cognitive, emotional, environmental and prior experience, influence understanding. World views, knowledge and skills are acquired and can therefore be changed.
There are many existing cognitive learning theories, but I’ll just mention the ones which made sense to me…
Transformative learning theory : process of “perspective transformation” has three dimensions: psychological (changes in understanding of self), convictional (revision of belief systems), and behavioral (changes in lifestyle)
Published in 1956 by Educational Psychologist Dr Benjamin Bloom in collaboration with Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl) is a framework for education goals. It works in stages (hierarchical). Learning at the higher levels is dependent on having attained prerequisite/foundational knowledge and skills at lower levels.
- Before you can understand a concept, you must remember it.
- To apply a concept you must first understand it.
- In order to evaluate a process, you must have analyzed it.
- To create an accurate conclusion, you must have completed a thorough evaluation.
Ultimately, learning is up to the student. The instructor cannot “make” the student learn. Students only learn from personal experience.
If memory is fallible, and I’ve attached my own meaning to my memories and have a renewed concept of understanding based on “false” memories, (false in that they are distorted based on how I have chosen to reflect on them, while others are adjusted to have a more logical counter argument, the rest, can remain locked away in a vault). Then how is my understanding of a concept is any different from any other theory. How accurate is any other concept, if the author isn’t aware of their blind spots. Everything is theory, unless it has been scientifically proven (ie. 99.9% repeatable results), or proven if you’ve proven it for yourself. The best way to create enduring knowledge is through practice.
I do believe however, that it is possible for you to create accurate conclusions without understanding or memory of something. (But that happens by chance, so it’s best to just go through the process instead of assuming).
Learning how to learn
In a course I completed a while back on Coursera, “Learning how to learn”, by Dr. Barbara Oakley, (Author of A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), (Penguin, 2014)), she explains how we learn, how the brain functions, how connections are made and how problems are solved. (I suggest you take this course if you’re looking to make the most of your study time). The key takeaway for me was that memory is fallible. And that in order to create enduring knowledge, you need to treat your brain like any other muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
An athlete doesn’t train once a month to get fit. Instead, daily exercise ensures strength is built and not only maintained, but increased. Likewise with learning, you need to continue practicing, in order to reinforce the new connections made in your brain. Not parrot fashion memorisation, but rather by creating meaningful associations and physically “doing”.
When learning something new, you don’t cram the night before and hope that information will be stored. Some of it may remain briefly the next day, however try and recall it 1 year or 10 years later, and most likely you won’t. (On another level, the way information is presented, greatly affects the way it is processed and whether it is easy to grasp & determines whether it is memorable).
Focused & diffused mode of thinking
When learning, you’re creating new connections in your brain. New patterns are formed. In the course, she also explains that when it comes to problem solving, the times when you’re in focused mode of thinking, and just can’t find a solution, it’s best to break away and find something else to do, preferably something physical, going for a walk or a run. ( I find washing dishes to be a good way for creating a diffused state; as I hate washing dishes, but sinks need to be cleaned — kill 2 birds with one stone : divert attention, and stop worrying about cleaning, by just getting it done, focus only on the process of washing, drying, packing away). This switches your brain to a “diffused” mode of thinking, which is the time your brain can stop going in the same loop of thinking…generally this state will induce insight, and find a solution.
Apparently, Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali used methods to trigger a diffused state. They would be in a focused state and when they couldn’t solve the problem, they’d simply break away, Einstein pacing around his home, playing his violin. Dali who would quiet his mind (try to doze off), while holding an object in his hand which would wake him up by the clank on the floor, in an attempt to remember his dreams. There are similar references regarding Thomas Edison (holding a ball bearings and napping). There’s other stories mentioned of Aristotle doing something similar.
These examples of thinkers above, whether true or false don’t matter. The point is, that there is truth in getting to a relaxed frame of mind as well as an uncomfortable frame. Relaxed and uncomfortable in terms of using methods we’re familiar with, as well as in terms of physically calming your body down vs adding tension in solving something you’ve never solved before. Or being challenged to do something you’ve never done before.
Based on my findings lately, it’s clear that we get stuck in one mode of thinking. When we struggle to solve a problem (it doesn’t matter if it’s solving “creatively/unconventionally or logically/systematically”)…
the problem is not the method we’re using, but rather the fact that we get stuck using the same thinking pattern. Or becoming unstuck in a tense focused state, instead of diverting to relaxed frame of mind.
The beautiful part of problem solving, is that every problem holds within it, the solution. Asking the right questions, (framing the problem correctly), helps you reach the answer. Making time to break away and find time to relax is also key. Making time to study, just a you’d make time to work out is critical. Ensure your learning time is used effectively, by using the information you learn, set up a schedule to alternate theory with practice. By using theory in a practical way we can ensure the information is retained.
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