• Debansu

The Psychology of Learning

Memory and Intelligence

We often corroborate the ability to memorise facts and information as intelligence. Well, they are positively linked, that can be said, but is it a reliable measure? Not always. What should be noted is the level of intelligence of a student is not directly affected by their working memory.

Let’s make things easier and think of working memory as a filing cabinet. A separate file is allotted to a piece of information. If that’s how we think of it, then we can easily identify a problem that will come up constantly, i.e. finding a particular piece of information becomes increasingly difficult. Now imagine factors such as distractions, lack of sleep and stress looming over you, then finding information can be quite toiling. Now if we categorise the information in sections within sections then what we get is effective memorisation.

So, linking intelligence to memory is unfair. Rather it is interlinked to training and environmental factors.

What is Rote Learning?

Rote Learning, is defined as the technique used to memorise information through repetition. All of us have done this and the two best examples of rote learning include memorising the numbers and alphabets. When we are slightly older we use this technique to spell words and remember multiplication tables. And by the time we enter high school, it’s a technique that we hone.

Does it work?

It has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, which we shall shortly talk about. But the burning question is does rote learning work? The easy and short answer to this question is yes. It is quite effective to students when they the cover basics of mathematics like multiplication tables.

The obvious question that you have in your mind is how?

Firstly, it is because rote learning when purposeful is more useful in some sense than random memorisation.

Secondly, it does help the brain to retain information for a significant amount of time.

Thirdly, it’s like a brain exercise that not only improves memory, it also affects how your brain works.

Rote Learning is not an either/or matter, to begin with. Rote Learning does not equal higher-level thinking and should not replace one for another. However, if you look at it, it is somewhat the bedrock for higher-level thinking and we should not ignore it. We have already talked about rote learning as the filing system for our brain and if you can access a piece of information when you’re performing a task, your brain is free to make leaps in learning. Now when you come to think about it, rote learning in our technologically advanced age is ever-present and can get more important than ever.

Advantages of Rote Learning

  • It builds a strong foundation of primary knowledge.

  • Increases the speed at which students hold and remember information.

  • As the memorised information stays in the short term memory of a student, the longer it is there, the higher the chance that it will most likely become a part of their long term memory.

Disadvantages of Rote Learning

  • Students tend to lose interest over some time as it is repetitive.

  • It takes the fun out of learning.

  • There’s no connection between new and old concepts. The idea of knowledge building is unfortunately absent.

  • The technique of rote learning does not take into account students who struggle to master retention of information.

  • The idea of peer learning pretty much goes out the window, as they are more focused on memorisation instead of working together.

  • Students often cannot develop leadership skills as they’re asked to follow instructions rather than think for themselves.

  • And finally, it simply does not promote critical thinking.

What is Meaningful Learning?

Meaningful Learning can be defined as a technique using which students gain fundamental knowledge and critical thinking by building on top of what was previously learned. Students need to make connections between new and old information. The goal is to build cognitive skills which students can use for a lifetime. What it does is that it makes students build new skill foundations but also engage in conceptual learning.

Merits of Meaningful Learning

  • Students can make a deeper connection between old and new knowledge.

  • Teachers can now focus on actual learning rather than just memorising facts.

  • Students find a sense of motivation, achievement and purpose as they engage in meaningful learning.

  • It develops active learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Demerits of Meaningful Learning

  • It requires prior knowledge to build on.

  • This technique does not work if one quickly needs to recall a particular piece of information.

  • Some students might not be able to put in the required effort, time and energy.

  • Students may lose interest if they cannot join dots between old and new information.

Critical Thinking

John Dewey, an American philosopher used the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal he called ‘reflexive thinking’. Dewey defines it as an “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends.” He was not the first person to do this before him John Locke, Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill have advocated for a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

There have been a lot of definitions that can be mentioned to understand this concept. Now, definitions vary with regards to goal, scope, what we are focusing on, different criteria, and on.

We can always follow a few steps when thinking critically to solve a problem. To begin we need to identify the problem and understand the underlying reason behind it. Then we research the problem at hand and gather relevant data or information. With all of this information, you can develop and implement solutions. One needs to assess the solution's success and failure while identifying means to refine their solutions.

So, why has critical thinking been adopted and recommended? The obvious answer to this may be it gives students a sense of autonomy, thereby helping students get ready for success in life while also encouraging creativity.

Creating an Atmosphere in a Classroom that complements Meaningful Learning

The habit of rote learning is deeply embedded into the Indian education system, however pitiful it might be, it is not only seen among students but also encouraged by schools, teachers and parents. So, blaming students is not fair because our benchmark for success is how well you score on tests. With this as a yardstick, we divert our attention from knowledge and creativity in education to memorization of explanations, definitions from the allotted textbooks with the end goal of scoring well on tests.

Rote Learning has obvious drawbacks putting unwarranted pressure on students to conform while also very wrongly attributing someone with a sharp memory with someone possessing knowledge and intelligence.

In the end, if you think about rote learning, it is nothing but a short term solution to a long term problem. The question is how do we create an atmosphere that eliminates such a rabid problem?

Firstly, we can encourage students to test their knowledge for themselves. This not only enhances their problem-solving abilities, but also increases their confidence in themselves.

Secondly, the idea is to enable students to decipher problems. Schools and teachers need to provide students with adequate feedback and encouragement when students make errors. It is fundamental for students to understand where they are making mistakes and how to correct them. This is a critical element that our system currently lacks, it can be worthwhile to follow as pointing errors without proper support can bring detrimental results.

Thirdly, the system can modify its current assessment methods. Replace the ‘What’ and ‘Who’ with ‘How’ and ‘Why’, and with this, you are introducing analytical questions, which might help you measure understanding and application of concepts. This can also include an opinion-based question, which encourages the student to bring their point of view to the table.

There can be more steps that might be taken such as classroom participation, linking classroom content with a wide variety of examples in the real world. Personal experiences should also be looked at while sharing or discussing the wide variety of problems that can or need to be solved. The idea of learning by doing can bring significant positive results; this might help students retain concepts for a longer time.

We have stepped foot in the 21st century now and it brings its own set of problems, challenges that we need to overcome. The 21st Century economy is remarkable, it grows through constant innovation, enterprises value individuals who think critically and creatively, they value problem solvers who can collaboratively work in a globalised world. If schools want to prepare students for the 21st century, the habit of rote learning needs to be eliminated as quickly as possible, but we all know new systems or skills cannot be developed overnight. Schools therefore, have the responsibility to nurture and challenge students every day to make them responsible citizens of this connected new world.

Different Types of Learning

As we are well aware that most of us respond to different styles of learning. The different styles capture an individual strength that helps an individual to retain information more effectively. Different styles focus on one of the five senses or a social aspect. So, let’s discuss the 7 styles of learning-

  1. Visual – Visual or spatial learners retain information best through images, i.e. diagrams, graphs, charts or drawing out concepts. Mostly they learn by looking at spatial concepts, by creating them or watching someone create them.

  2. Kinaesthetic – Also known as physical learners, and as you can understand they learn best when they do things physically. They would like to carry out an action and get their hands dirty.

  3. Auditory – They like to hear out examples and solutions being explained to them. These individuals might also gravitate towards music and group learning as a result.

  4. Social – They are at their best when they’re interacting with others, participating in group activities and might also show leadership abilities within a group. Although social in this case does not strictly mean that these individuals only like verbal interaction.

  5. Verbal – Linguistic learners respond well to writing and speaking. They prefer to read, write, indulge in word games and poems.

  6. Logical – They would like structures and logic to learn effectively. Usually good with numbers, programming, science and more pattern oriented career paths.

  7. Solitary – They work best when they are left alone.

Digital Learning and E-Learning

Digital Learning means any type of learning that is done using digital technology. In a sense, Digital Learning is an all-encompassing term, which includes not only students taking online courses, but also includes students doing research over the internet or watching online videos in a classroom and teachers using tools like tablets and smartboards. Different teaching methods in Digital Learning include Virtual classrooms, Gamified Learning, Open Online Courses, Social Learning, Adaptive Learning and Mobile Learning.

E-Learning is also known as virtual learning. This refers to a course that has been taken entirely over the internet. Here the student and teacher do not meet face to face, the course takes place via video conferencing, email, forums or chat.

Is Visual Learning good?

An important objective of an E-Learning course is to make an impact on students, to facilitate learning, visuals shall become a key component of any E-Learning course. Through visuals, learners will understand fundamental ideas and engage throughout the course.

Let’s take something simple now, given an option between learning something via text in the allotted book and learning the same concepts through audio and video description, which one do you choose? Most of us would prefer an audio/video description of it rather than reading it, the reason is rather simple visuals are more appealing than texts to young minds. Several studies suggest that learners respond to visual information faster when compared to text-only materials. Visuals help students improve their learning significantly on different levels and now we shall talk about a few of them.

  • It simply helps in retaining information for a longer time. According to Dr Lynell Burmark, an education consultant, we can only retain seven bits of information in our short term memory. On the flip side, images remain etched in our long term memory.

  • Makes communication simpler and faster. According to the Visual Teaching Alliance, of all the information transmitted to the brain, 90 percent is visual. Visuals are processed 60,000x faster than text. Humans can get a sense of a visual scene in less than 1/10th of a second.

  • It helps students get hold of key concepts by stimulating imagination and developing their cognitive abilities. Images do have the power to expand the potential of students through comprehension, analysis and absorption of new information.

  • Well known to us visual information and emotions are handled in the same part of the brain. As a result, visual metaphors and images create profound impressions and lasting memories in students.

  • Students struggle in certain subjects and it is simply because they find it unexciting. This then affects their desire to put in the required effort that is needed. In this case, the best resort is to engage them through videos, captivating images and compelling graphics. The quality and relevance of these visuals do matter, cause if they are not students instantly lose interest.

The idea that visuals act as a power booster to the existing curriculum has already been well documented and understood. While its addition has been worthwhile in drawing out more from students, the curriculum is still not holistic. In a class of more than thirty students, we get to see all sorts of learners and how each of them interact, but the curriculum is not inclusive of each and everyone’s style. Now we are in an age where we’re inclusive of all sorts of stuff, then why not learning styles.

But is there something out there that is even better?

As all of us are already aware visual learning is nowadays prevalent in most educational institutions, although they have played the due part they have outlived their existence. Students and teachers need something more interactive, more stimulating; in short, they want an experience.

Imagine classes that are not only about visuals rather a combination of audio, visual, kinaesthetic, logical and social. Students not only get to see it, they get a chance to work on it themselves, they get to use their logic while interacting with fellow peers in the same arena which is built for them and not only do teachers get to keep an eye on the environment but also keep track of their progress. But is there something out there that is even better?

The answer to this question is a resounding YES! Where you ask, well you need to wait for that.

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