Learning as Self-Help
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From the Art of Teaching
Information is a sperm, and experience an ovum. Information and experience unite to form something new on top of old and established patterns, after some incubation time before a developing result comes out in the open, that is, is born, and then either put to nipples of good nourishment and thorough care, or starved to death. Thus, higher learning comes about when fit info and experiences fuse to form understanding. It comes by degrees. And further, it is fit to select info that is capable of giving already won experiences a constructive spin, as the typical results of that approach may furnish something to build on, even successively. In simpler terms, say no negative remarks to students, but keep a helpful standard. A proper home and a suitable group climate otherwise help that.
Ideas can be compared to semen. If they reach a circle of experience (an egg) inside someone, something new can be given birth some time later, like a new-born child - not exactly like the seminal idea that went into making it, and not exactly like the ovum part either, but something novel which ideally is healthy and long-lasting, if things go well. Further evolutions allow for rearing, protecting, fostering, schooling, and applications.
It is very fit to allow time for incubation of new ideas, and some space to express them through art, for example after a night's sleep. After learning something new, it is good to allow for the new networks of ideas to "mingle with" the already established idea networks in the mind and brain, and thus get better integrated. The way of finding good incubation time for new ideas is a vital part of Waldorf pedagogy, where it is a regular feature of its ongoing process of learning in a "Steiner way".
Speaking of art, the highest or best art form among humans is that of making new humans, and "everyone" is capable of taking part in it. Thus, the art of making babies is number one, the art of living is almost as good, and other arts are contained in the first two of them. One may also say that learning is also a culture-forming, contiuous process "from flowers to fruits and then to flowers and fruits again" and so on.
Typically they [the students] come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. [Noam Chomsky, sarcastically. [MORE CHOMSKY]
❖ There is more than one lesson of the semen and egg.
I think about ninety percent of the problem in teaching, or maybe ninety-eight percent, is just to help the students get interested. [Noam Chomsky 30]
For the lack of artful education and a congenial frame for it, the learning impetus of many children, pupils, and students is rather starved. As a matter of fact, much of the compulsive public teaching that dominates, and its enforced frames of learning, fail to keep learners inspired and interested enough, and fail to build on their good interests and experiences too. It fails to protect good students as well.
That fifteen percent of the students at the University of Oslo quit their studies, seems to fit into that pattern. In other places of higher learning in Norway, one out of three quit. In teacher academies, up to 40 percent quit. [Note 1]
Country-wise figures of mobbing are also revealing. Mobbing can be defined as hostile and unethical communication and violence where the victim is pushed into a helpless and defenseless position and held there by continuing mobbing activities. Because of the high frequency and long duration of hostile behaviour, this maltreatment results in considerable mental, psychosomatic and social misery.
There are tens of thousands of unhappy Norwegian schoolchildren due to mobbing, which affect learning adversely. A look at figures:
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, a proverb tells. The learning outcome (loosely understood: what we can recall and put to some use) is fit for measuring educational institutions. According to the Norwegian Department of Education, the learning outcome in public Norwegian schools is less than mediocre in reading, mathematics, and natural sciences - according to PISA tests of representative pupil selections among 15-year-olds. The PISA tests occur every third year, and are directed and formed by OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). And PISA stands for "Programme for International Student Assessment." Results from another international test, TIMSS 2007, confirm that Norwegian 4th-graders and 8th graders are relatively weak in mathematics and natural sciences. TIMSS is short for "Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study." [Note 3]
Lots of money are put into the Norwegian educational system, and very much of it seems to be wasted. As a matter of fact, there is no relation between how much money is spent on pupils or students in different municipalities and what grades the youngsters get, confirms Geert Laier Christensen at the Center of Political Studies in Denmark. [Note 4]
So even though the Norwegian government spends much money on public schooling, results are lagging behind. "Når vi skyter inn veldig mye penger, og får ut middelmådige resultater har vi selvsagt et problem (When insert a lot of money and get mediocre results out of it, we have of course a problem)," says the Norwegian Department of Education. May I insert: The problem is hopefully to be taken as a challenge - and spending money and spending it wisely are two different things - Wise spending helps learning outcomes and thriving better than the current state of affairs, and it is not impossible to do so. [Note 5]
The statistically had figures above reveal a need for good group climate for learning, to say the least. And Waldorf Education, a private school system where artful presentation of material is a key, and incubation time for artful expression of ideas another, experience a better group climate that public schools, as Wikipedia informs [s.v., "Waldorf education"]. And besides, Waldorf students outperform students from public schools as to grades etc. Something of that sort is frequently seen for other kinds of private schools and high schools in Norway too, where "fifteen of the twenty best schools [in English] for eight-graders (age ca. 15) are private schools." In average private schools in Norway appear to be only slightly better than public schools, though. [Notes 6 and 7]
Other learning factors are vital too, apart from little mobbing and decent learning environments to thrive in. For public schooling, parent level of education matters the most, and many hours spent on teaching in a classroom, and nice and even lovely surroundings matter too. [Note 7]
❖ Tens of thousands of unhappy Norwegian demonstrate that schooling outcomes and learning outcomes are two different things. Good learning, like exploration in general, come along with sound joy. [Flg]
❖ It should be estimated just how far it is true that the learning outcomes of public, Norwegian schooling show that thousands of millions have been wasted, as compared to results of good learning and good learning experiences.
A fine learning definition by Robert M Smith:
Learning . . . is an activity of one who learns. It may be intentional or random; it may involve acquiring new information or skills, new attitudes, understandings or values. It usually is accompanied by change in behavor and goes on throughout life. It is often thought of as both processes and outcomes. Education can be defined as "the organized, systematic effort to foster learning, to establish the conditions and to provide the activites through which learning can occur." [in Plm 30]
Thus, learning is something that takes place and concerns new attitudes and new information, and so on. Some of the definitions of learning include outward changes as results of inward changes, and other definitions do not. Wikipedia offers parts of this summary: Learning is acquiring new knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, preferences or understanding, and may involve synthesizing different types of information. Humans, animals and some machines may learn, but not equally well on different learning levels. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.
Apart from being given semen (being informed), humans learn from play, humans learn by exploring things, experimenting, rules, interacting. Children often make meaning of their environment through play.
There are many sides to learning. First, learning and teaching is not the same. Learning is what happens within a person. You may (or may not) come to profit greatly from its results as time goes by. Public teaching, on the other hand, is a project of taming and conformisation, most of all. At least it seems so. It also seems to kill natural, inborn interest in learning as school years go by. However, a part of that may be counteracted by proper study methods, hopefully.
❖ Little measured learning outcomes, like values, preferences and changed attitudes, are important too.
First, a little pinpointing:
This becomes all the more interesting in the light of that half of the persons on the test were researchers at SINTEF and doctorate students, and all failed on an exam they had previously taken. Suffice to say that good learning methods and teaching methods (rigmarole) are designed to counteract massive forgetting, but Norwegian universities typically ignore the basics of just that. The proof of the pudding? Rystad's investigation counts too. [Note 8]
❖ Where the learning outcomes are good, the teaching methods could have have been all right.
Learning outcomes are concerned with the achievements of the learner rather than the intentions of any teacher. They can take many forms and can be broad or narrow. The term 'learning outcome' stands for such as gains in knowledge, demonstrable skill or understanding due to a learning process. Those gains should be assessible too. Further, Unesco includes (altered or built) attitudes among learning outcomes.
I stick to a broader understanding of it, linked to Smith's definition of learning (in the section above). It is not easy to measure internal changes in students or learners, as some such changes and gains may go unnoticed by others, and may be unclear to those who are in the process of giving birth to them (compare 'incubation' in the top section). Sound research allows for incubation of new material. Many researchers have applied the principle of incubation to eventually come up with good solutions to problems.
When teaching is not well adapted to how humans learn - including how memory works - much of the resources speant on teaching - that is, on formal schooling or a school system - are in vain. Good learning is a process that enriches you within, wheras much of what is called formal education, takes liking away, and that is very sad. A true educator would have nothing of it.
Learning may be part of education or personal development. In quite intelligent animals and humans, sound learnings happens through play. And learning may come about without conscious awareness, as in passive learning. As for learning ways in formal studies and out of school, learning can be helped on and up by such as:
Material on such sides to learning are on-site [Link].
The site seldom or never goes down to low sides to learning, as imprinting (among animals) habituation, association, and conditioning. Apart from saying that rote-learning (cramming) can be good in a nervous, exam-fixated study, and suggesting ways and means to profit from cramming with little wear and tear, the stress on this site is on higher fields of learning: observation, play, enculturation by fine stories, and how to grow personal insights, not unlike scientists and researchers who struggle for solutions by trial and error, clever incubations and much else.
❖ Learning helps personal development, and study skills favour learning. I suggest there is much you can do outside school and also inside it, by "riding" on wise study methods that suit you.
Sharing Knowledge On-line
There are many ways of sharing knowledge on the Internet today, and different sides to it, besides many sides to learning endeavours too:
Free (enough) learning is opposite to routine learning and formalised drill of compulsory education with its uses of force and harsh discipline for the sake of obedience. Family study groups as Tony Buzan writes about, may serve as examples of free learning. And nonformal learning is organised learning outside a formal learning system.
Nonformal, informal and formal education may blend somewhat, as in open learning, which supposed to allow learners self-determined, independent and interest-guided learning.
Distance education, also called distance learning, offer education to students who are not physically "on site". Various forms of electronic learning, or e-learning, are fit for it. In it, instructors can make is self-paced information available internationally and share knowledge for formal teaching purposes, or better: for learning purposes, as with content on this site.
The content on this site is largely informal, but many parts are appreciated and used by school and universities. Also, parts of the on-site content reflect a ground-breaking, instructional design that in part allows a reader to form conclusions and even task programs adapted to themselves.
❖ International testing programs do not favour local learning efforts, but tend to reflect what serves business interests abroad and at home.
Much learning is of the long term memory, LTM
There are many ways to help learning. Millions of students participate in on-line learning today. On-line material may be private and non-profit, and may go along with online discussions and even online learning communities too, to be a more interesting experience.
The designs that are offered on this site to help learning, are like flowers, whereas gist that enter the long-time memory (LTM) can be compared to fruits. To make bits of knowledge enter the LTM is time-consuming unless one is wide awake, interested, that is. Maybe ten things a minute is an avarage speed of such assimilation.
We may come to apply the best parts of the Gold Scales' section on learning (this one), and thereby help ourselves in the art of learning, whether it be formal lessons and informal study out of interest. "Impress the mind enough", and learning is wont to happen. Or better: "Impress deep enough" and/or "often enough", alternatively.
What is learnt at any time, is integrated with what we manage to recall from what we have learnt or got inklings of earlier. So seek to get fresh learning allied with prior knowledge and experiences. Munch subconscious integration of such kinds takes place during rest and sleep, and should be allowed to happen, even encouraged. Personal experiences differ, and mental associations tend to become increasingly individualised in time, Buzan and Buzan demonstrate in Mind Mapping [Mmb 64-69]. This is to be allowed for too. Besides, we learn by practicing things, apart from being keen observers. Benjamin Bloom and colleagues show there are many sides to learning, and several levels of learning too.
Design Your Learning Sessions Well and You Can Prosper
There is a difference between schooling and proper schooling. Proper schooling aims at fostering learning, by taking into account what we know in general about how it happens, and what hinders learning. Proper schooling fosters good learning by being reasonably allied with knowledge of how human memory tends to work, as "understanding and recall are quite different things." For example, averaging curves of forgetting show that 80% of the content of a lecture is forgotten after 14 days, unless something is done. It suggests that even if you understand everything in a lecture, after half a month you may have forgotten much more than half of it, and what then? Special remedying measures should be applied to preserve the fruits of your tedious study and lectures in your "memory bank" free from swearing. That is where clever study methods are to be applied.
Worse still, after six and twelve months without refreshing the material once understood during a lecture or from a reading session, almost everything is forgotten. Compare Rystad's finding from a Norwegian university.
It has been estimated by the maker of the 3QSR study method, Robinson, that 80 percent of the study time is best spent on memorisation [Er; Ams app]. Memorisation can be done in different ways. The best of them can be allied with all right recordings of material to be recalled - such key information may be played and replayed in the privacy of your home as part of the mind training you are interested in, and it does not demand a lot either. But the results of this type of super learning can be fabulous, and are worth a try.
Various study methods should be designed to favour memory far more than today's university lectures. There are many ways to help you to learn what you are taught, more ways to the wood than one.
Learning may occur in spite of what happens in schools, and in spite of homework assignments too. Alfie Kuhn has found from 300 studies that schoolwork assignments generally make no difference: Children get no better grades or study habits by homework. Yet, some tell that homework helps. It depends on how the homework is organised. How well it is adapted, whether it is to cement classroom teaching or give new informations. Such facets matter to clarify. It is not just a question of homework or not, but what kind of homework it is, how it is administered, adapted - things like that. Still, as a good indication of the current lay of the land in America too:
Widespread assumptions about the benefits of homework - higher achievement and the promotion of such virtues as self-discipline and responsibility - aren't substantiated by the available evidence. [Kohn, p. 3]
These are quite discomforting findings. Schooling consists of teaching and learning, at least ideally. However, many ground rules of effective learning are done away with in common schooling, for the sake of conform measures focused on teaching activities - and not individualised learning. It may be good to know about it. Much public education seems to apply mainly rote learning or cramming in front of examinations that make nervous, very nervous. But rote learning has its drawbacks, and learning does not have to be other-directed, or done for outer rewards.
In schools, the effects of the money spent and the efforts can be easily measured by how much is recalled after some time. If schooling is experienced as threatening interest andeagerness, the quality of attendence may suffer.
The learning climate should not be threatening for the best levels of learning to occur. Examinations are somehow artificial and unjust ways of motivation and assessment, and can be made into roadblocks on the way of success, and hamper the dear learning process too. It is much due to the stress that public examinations engender - they do indeed - and lead to nervousness and broken hearts. They can and should be replaced by other ways of "motivation" and assessments. It is indeed possible. It is a matter of choices. Cramming for examinations is too short-sighted, and may hurt and often derange the splendid learning process deep inside. If you cannot afford not to cram, do it. At the same time you can access well designed study methods designed to make hard work easier and the effects better. By using your study time better, you may even win spare time. It happens to some who learn mind mapping, Tony Buzan says.
Good learning in a cognitive perspective is what this long series is about. Many sorts of teachings mar the learning process, regrettably. It should not be that way.
❖ Schoolwork assignments that make very nervous and anxious, may not be all right. Much depends on a lax enough learning environment.
Learning Follows Its Own Dynamics
It helps to know how learning takes place. At times conditions allow many small steps, at other times giant leaps. Mastery learning is a good thing to go for. But most public schools revert to cramming and extreme focus on grades. They teach for the coming exams, ignoring the grades of learning, ignoring implementation practice and time for implementations, many of them. It is shown that nervous, anxious cramming for exams may turn neurotic, that an alarming percentage of students use tranquilisers while cramming, and knowledge gained by such sad means may get too superficial to count, and is extremely fast forgotten.
Knowing things like these makes a difference. You can help yourself and get the most out of books if you learn excellent study methods and apply them aptly, adroitly.
A little encouragement is good as well. Where it it lacking, reward yourself by charting the time you spend on study each day, and give small "gifts" to yourself at intervals. Remember small steps are fit for memory-rooted sessions, and many small rewards for little gains. It may count as self-help reinforcment. As soon as you have earned it, enjoy your present.
❖ To go actively for self-help in the field of learning, may help too.
Yoga training for learning
Yoga consists of postures (asanas), breathing exercises (prananyama), and meditation methods. Postures ease the study, and require little space. Breathing exercises may help you calm down a little. Meditation methods helps you to gather focus. There is a carry-over effect into study, research show. But not all meditation methods are alike, and beginners in yoga and meditation need to preserve their hard-won freedoms over and above learning secretive methods, in all likelihood.
But the principles apply: Become better fit for the very hard work of learning, of assimilating ideas and connecting them to what you have experienced and learnt yourself. You can get markedly better fit if you combine yoga relaxation methods with your study. There are many other benefits. Yoga and meditation may fit self-help. Just ensure you are of sound mind before venturing into teachings and techniques of yoga. Not all of them are OK. TM, Transcendental Meditation, has been much researched, and with remarkable results.
❖ Sound meditation helps in developing the mind, and may make it far more appreciative to learning and other experiences. Study the research (link in the paragraph above)
❖ Combine relaxing and studying with tact, and you may benefit. Good study methods teach ways to combine the two.
Repeat basic ideas at intervals to fasten their neural networks. Then you learn better
Decent study methods that are fit for self-help and study, have their point of departure in the process of learning applied to your capacity and level somehow. People are different, with widely different life experiences and expectations. First of all, bring interest with you or into the study. Second, organise your study into sessions with frequent pauses, to get the best results of the time spent. Try to get to the key points of the subject to study, and memorise at intervals, overlearning a bit the very important parts. In such ways you get handles - and can much easier grab the content in your "memory bank".
Researchers show we have a working memory and a long-term memory (LTM). The latter is the most important. Some things do not need overlearning and repetitions to enter the LTM, you learn it once and it sticks for life. But much in a study may be tedious, even though rewarding in time. For such situations study methodology apply. Stay calm and relax if there is time. Mete out portions of the material and allot time to them. You have to calculate a little for it, but that will not be bad.
Study should devote much, much time for repetitions. That is the activity students may learn the most from, American research shows. And when you enter your study place, sit straight and devote yourself to the work. If you get eager, it is good. Some call that "being in the flow", but do not let jargon confuse you. Have good dictionary easily accessible. If you can buy one to have on your computer, it could be good help. An encyclopedia on the PC is great to have too, unless you have stable access to Wikipedia and if other large encyclopedias and lexicons are at hand.
❖ The working memory soon forgets items, and making items stick in the long term memory can be hard study work, unless there is much interest too.
Learn the Tricks of the "Trade": Learn how to Learn WellThere are many rewards of learning. Better grades and far better output could be among them. We are not against good grades and more efficient use of the brain power. Far from it. We hold that the delicate id-rooted associations that learning depends on, can better occor in an environment that is not tense and not gruesome. "Learn with pleasure" should be a good motto.
So far we have talked for interest in what you are studying, personal eagerness, relaxation to help focus, study at short intervals with many, frequent breaks, and many repetitions that have to be spaced out over many weeks, just to be sure the knowledge in you may be stabilised. There is an "art" to that too. If you study till you get mental pegs (handles), when you gather focus on the pegs, the mental associations tend to get activated by it, and you may remember things - more and better than without pegs. There are many tricks of such a trade, as memory research has revealed. Assimilate the best items and pass them on, too. It could be great help for you - as teaching other reinforces your learning.
Besides, what is fored in a group of peers, may be far better reinforced and remain with us for very long. Group work in study is helpful if added to individual efforts alone.
❖ Where the students do not cram with pleasure, something is less than all right -
Idea Maps and Expedite Study
Among the specialities we present here, mind maps (idea maps, cognitive maps, neuron-like charts) are worth mastering. There are very good reasons for it. Research shows that students get better grades from that approach, even if they spend only one third of the time on study than other students. So by all means, do what serves you. Learning idea maps is not hard; it is finding time to make them neat after the lecture that may get difficult, but just that step may be the most helpful one for your memory, judged by how forgetting works.
From time to time learning material needs an overhaul. Books you studied may have become outdated. In such cases, get new editions of the former books, or replace the old curriculum books in line with your university or school does. That could help to stay updated, perhaps abreast too.
From time to time you need to refresh your study subjects too. This overhaul may be best done from your note-books. By looking at the key words and key phrases you have written down, memories and ideas start getting back to you, and content starts to get activated. Let it. It is hard work, so be as lax as you can during these overhauls and upkeeps.
If you stay true to yourself and stick to good learning methods, you may start to get eager in life and progress too. Integrated knowledge is a boon to go for. It equals "wisdom of Solomon" in more than one way. It helps you to think your own thoughts after time.
There are steps and stages of learning too. Accommodate to it. Buzan does not, Bloom shows how. Step on into mastery somehow. In that way education can serve you. Details of this and many other subjects mentioned here, are presented on the coming pages, one by one, as time permits.
❖ Idea maps help some students. And yet there are more ways to the wood of learning than that one.
Kohn, Alfie. Why Our Children Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2006.
Ams: Atkinson, Richard, et al. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1987.
Coe: Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Cpi: Anderson, John R. Cognitive Psychology and its Implications. 4th ed. New York: Freeman, 1995.
Dl: Gibson, Chere Campbell, ed. Distance Learners in Higher Education: Institutional Response for Quality Outcomes. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing, 1998.
Ebu: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2009.
Er: Francis P. Robinson. Effective Reading. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.
Fd: Keegan, Desmond, ed. Foundations of Distance Education. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
Fgl: Svebak, Sven. Forlenger en god latter livet? Bergen: Fagbokforlaget, 2000.
Grt: Meyer, Adolphe. Grandmasters of Educational Thought. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.
Lt: Schunk, Dale. Learning Theories. An Educational Perspective. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2008.
Lth: Ramsden, Paul. Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge, 1992.
Mmb: Buzan, Tony, with Barry Buzan. The Mind Map Book. Rev. ed. London: BBC Books, 1995.
Mum: Buzan, Tony. Make the Most of Your Mind. Rev. ed. London: Pan, 1988.
Plm: Gross, Ronald. Peak Learning: A Master Course in Learning How to Learn. Rev ed. New York: J. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.
Tece: Bloom, Benjamin, et al. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. New York: McKay, 1956.
Tor: Buzan, Tony. Speed Reading. Rev. ed. London: David and Charles, 1988.
Tpd: Keegan, Desmond, ed. Theoretical Principles of Distance Education. London: Routledge, 1993.
Uy: Buzan, Tony. Use Your Head. New, rev. ed. London: BBC Books, 1989.
Note 1. John Hultgren. Én av tre avbryter studiene (One out of three break off their studies). Aftenposten. 6 July 2009.
Note 2. Statped. Elevenes arbeidsmiljølov. 28 August 2009. [Link]. Also [dcum.dk/webfm_send/517]
Note 3. Skolenettet. TIMSS, PISA, PIRLS og Nasjonale prøver. Utdanningsdirektoratet.
Note 4. John Bones and Frank Ertesvåg. Penger gir ikke bedre karakterer (Money does not yield better grades). VG. 29 November 2009.
Note 5. Lisbet Rugtvedt. Kan kommunene gjøre mer for å få en bedre skole? (May municipalities do more to get a better school?). Speech/Article. Kunnskapsdepartementet. 6 March 2008. [◦Link]
Note 6. 15 av de 20 beste i engelsk er privatskoler. Nettavisen. 11 November 2009.
Note 7. Slik bedrer du karakterene til barna dine (How to improve your children's grades). Side2. Nettavisen. 20 November 2009.
Note 8. Jarand Rystad. Alt glemt på grunn av ubrukeleg eksamensform? En empirisk undersøkelse av Matematikk 2 eksamen ved NTH. UNIPED nr 2-3, 1993:29-50. A summary in Norwegian.
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