what is important in learning? Storage, knowledge, connections? #change11

In the life session of today someone (brainysmurf1234 (?)) asked my opinion on learning. And because English is not my language and because I am a slow thinking person, I had to think some time for an answer.
One very old and very wrong definition of learning is: “learning is storing knowledge in the brains.” Some psychologists (neuropsychology) do experiments, they ask people to learn meaningless words and measure learning speed etc. This is not learning as humans do. This is not a new thought on learning. But the storage metaphor is still in use and is confusing us. Every teacher should know by now storing knowledge is the wrong metaphor.
Learning is creating new (potential) behaviour or modifying existing behaviour. I do not listen to a life session in the MOOC with the purpose and intention to store information in my brain, do you? (these neuropsychologists found that listening to a speech is the worst way to learn, retention is very bad).
Why should students listen to a speech, a presentation? In most cases they should not, as most lessons and presentations are dull and meaningless. (schools do need assessments and tests to force students to attend these lessons)
Sometimes a (good or bad) presentation makes the student think, and there will be learning. Here in this moment the student is connecting to something interesting. Information (about the connection) will be stored somewhere in the brain, but that is secondary. The important thing in learning is that the student will be able to do something new, because new connections are made.
Good lessons are intended to make students apply, discover these connections, good teachers try to make students connect.
And when someone is learning a language and has to repeat words in order to know them, that is not storing knowledge, that is making connections, that is creating new behaviour, speaking another language.

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8 thoughts on “what is important in learning? Storage, knowledge, connections? #change11

  1. Hi Jaap. I agree with you. Learning is definitely not storing info. I do like to listen to presentations though. It’s the same for me as reading that presentation. I just have trouble listening and reading at the same time :-)
    And I agree again on language learning: you will have to learn new words in order to be able to make new connections and speak and understand the language.
    Prettig weekend!

  2. Interesting post. Agree that lectures seem a poor way to engage people in learning.

    Language is something that must have developed between people. I can picture the person who “invented” language wandering around alone talking to themselves until someone came up and asked what they were talking about. But it doesn’t make sense that a way of signaling to each other started out like the lone-speaker model that lecturing seems to represent. Why listen to someone who isn’t really attempting to communicate? As you say learning might happen in a lecture but wouldn’t it be strictly the effort of the listener to make meaning of it? Individuals making noise at each other seems a big waste of language as a means of connecting which has to have been it origin.

    Even imagining a lone musician that might substitute for an example of the lone speaker / lecturer and lone receiver still seems to suggest connection. This video on imaging the brains of improvisational jazz musicians and finding their speech areas of the brain activated suggests language is a tool of conversation which is a means of connecting. While lecturing seems undirected and unconnected–not conversational but isolating and impersonal.


  3. I don’t see much difference between a lecture and a book/article. Both are one-way tools of communication. What you do with it is your choice. One person just finds it easier to read or to listen, depending on their preferred way of learning. When I am busy doing something else I don’t mind listening to podcasts or lectures, that way I can do 2 things at the same time, even though I am a reader (and therefore I prefer written text). The internet might have social tools but you still get your info from it without communication.

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  5. Thanks for this follow up, jaapsoft, that was me asking the question. One of the things I enjoy most about the live mooc sessions is the opportunity to see so many backchannel comments as people digest the presentation (or other topics), share their reflections and engage in further discussion and debate.

    If we were all in a live classroom together, there would likely only be one voice at a time (the speaker or someone who raised a hand to ask a question). The speed of connections we receive in the live mooc sessions is incredible, sometimes overwhelming, and always fascinating to me.

    Keep up the great posts, your English is excellent!

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