Facilitating Learning

Writing concisely is not easy; and short posts or pieces bringing out complex ideas are challenging to write. On a recent Akimbo podcast episode, Seth Godin shared that getting people to fill in the ______ allows them to learn much better. Because most of the learning takes place when they make the neural connections and not because they can recall some particular knowledge.

As a teacher, that means more efforts in structuring the materials. I recall how when I was in A Levels, our economics lecture notes had blanks in them for students to fill so that they’d pay attention. The unfortunate thing was that whilst the lecture notes were being photocopied in the printing room, the lecturer was changing his/her slides to reword certain things so eventually the students got so confused during the lecture what exactly to fill in those blanks.

When I went to college at LSE, I had a professor whose lecture notes was almost literally just blank (save for axes of graphs, which we have to fill in) and his lecture powerpoint was nothing but just a plain series of graphs. Coupled with his above average speed of talking and the fact his lectures were unrecorded, his lectures were really intense mental and kinesthetic (albeit just the eyes, and fingers) exercises.

We often forget that a conducive learning environment is not one that is effortless; it is one that facilitates activity on part of the learner. It is one that creates tension to force learners to bridge that gap created between what they already know with what they are about to learn or acquire. We can choose to test them that which they acquired (the ‘what’) on the process of resolving the tension (the ‘how-to’) which is harder. The challenge that confronts us is how do we avoid teaching to the test. And to remind ourselves that the test is really just an imperfect way in which we try to measure the progress of learning. How do we trade off the short-term good grades against the longer term learning and development of a kid?