In a graduate class of mine, in which there were a few undergraduates, we were discussing learning. The students were making a variety of assertions about learning that caused me to wonder whether we were all talking about the same phenomenon. People learn every day, but these students had managed to make learning into an entirely academic affair. They were failing to see themselves as the best examples of learners and learning that they could possibly know.
To get them to see this point, I asked various members of the class what they had learned recently. One told me he had learned that a wok will rust if left overnight with the cooking residue in it. Another told me she had learned that cheap paint doesn't work as well as expensive paint. Another told me she had learned that she could buy cough medicine across the street and didn't have to walk a long way for it as she had thought. Another told me he had learned that I liked to sit in a certain place in the classroom. Another said he had learned how to handle himself better in certain social situations. These learners were all graduate students.
The undergraduates, on the other hand, noted that they had learned various facts such as certain events in history or certain methods of calculation in mathematics.
Why the difference? The graduate students were much older than the undergraduates. Their environment was not as sheltered as the undergraduates. In addition, the undergraduates were engaged in the process of getting "A's" by learning what they were told. The graduate students were trying to find out about their new environment, living in new houses, cooking for themselves, trying to understand what was expected of them in graduate school. The graduate students were being forced, both in school and in life, to think for themselves.
What method were the undergraduates using for learning? Basically, they were copying what they were told. They learned by studying. The graduate students were experimenting, hoping to find out what was true by trying things out and attempting to make generalizations about what might hold true in the future. And though the undergraduate who learned how to perform symbolic integration will likely soon forget it, the graduate who rusted his wok will never make that mistake again.
The Learning Waterfall and Natural Learning
Where am I in the content of the book?