Some days back, I saw a teacher using animation to teach how the human heart works. Now-a-days there are many new apps coming to the market, providing such animated/video content for visualization of various concepts. Majority of the teachers, students and parents are in awe of the ease of digital learning in the form of audio-visual content. But I sense few problems here and would like you to understand it so as to avoid its ill effects.
We must embrace digital technology for its many benefits such as all time availability, wider reach, compact storage etc. But if the approach is not right, students may miss some of the golden benefits of learning. I still remember how I learnt ‘working of the human heart’ during my school years. The experience is still very strongly imprinted in my memory. One of the ‘AHA’ moments of my learning I will never forget. I will use this example to make my case.
I had this habit of trying to read things and try to understand before they are taught in school. So I was reading the sentences and then was trying to understand it using the diagram given in the same book. Slowly, I was building the whole picture. I was using my imagination to visually recreate the working of the heart in mind. I was connecting the part read and understood with new information coming in with each statement. If, at times, I struggled to understand a few lines, I would go further with the awareness of what is missing. If I could understand the next portion, I would find the context to understand earlier lines. Taking effort to read and make sense of it, build context from other parts of text, use other available tools to construct meaning… I would use it all during my studies. At the end, when I could understand the concept and see the whole picture, it was the most beautiful feeling. Maybe an AHA moment as people call it. I am aware of the use of these strategies by me from the age of 13–14 at least. Gradually, I improved in use of these strategies further.
I forgot how the human heart works in the next few years, apart from a few things. As new information and learning’s come in, our memory discards some old unused, unrevised information to make space for new. Most of us forget. Then what is the purpose of learning it in the first place? For me, I forgot the facts. But I learned how to think, how to read, how to make sense of new information, how to build complete pictures from many small connected bytes of information from the same topic and it stayed with me forever. I am happy I didn’t see any animation or gulp in the versions understood by my teacher at first. Because, not everything you learn stays with you, but your learning of how to learn will stay with you. Slowly, when you narrow down on your field or subject, many of the things you learned will fall out of relevance. But never the training of how to think.
Autobiographer of Albert Einstein, Denis Brian, tried to put Einstein’s view on education in the following words, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” I agree with Einstein with my experience. I now realize, when people defend the importance and benefits of education, I should ask what they mean by education. Mere learning of facts won’t make a good person or professional.
Education, when done right, has the potential to help us achieve much more. But isn’t it the time we revisit our beliefs about what education is and what should be our approach about it?
I should not forget to mention the role of motivation here. The AHA moments are addictive. If we know what is expected of us as learners, and we achieve it with our efforts, the sense of accomplishment activates the reward circuits in our brain. The associated interplay of chemicals and experiences in our brain imprints a memory of pleasure and we can get it. Result? We have motivation to repeat that experience. That’s the motivation to study.
In my experience, to understand the knowledge structure of any concept or subject, we should avoid trying to download someone else’s understanding as it is. The byte sized information, served gradually, allowing the learner to make sense out of it, to create meaning and build the knowledge structure by herself/himself is important.