The inspiration for this blog post came partly from Chelsea’s lovely post about learning and partly because I’m starting to think more and more about life after Colby. I’m entering a graduate program where (hopefully) I’ll be taught the specific skills I’ll need to become a successful social worker. However, after thinking about how much information I have learned in school that I haven’t retained, I started to freak out a bit. How will I ever be able to absorb all that information completely enough so that if later in my career, when someone asks me a specific question I’ll have an answer just like that? I guess part of my worry and skepticism stems from my opinions about Westernized education. I don’t find it very surprising that we forget the things we learn when we’re taught to swallow what an instructor tells us and regurgitate it back in a test booklet. The goal is to retain the information long enough to get a good grade. Once the exam is over, the neural circuits encoding that information are no longer stimulated and grow weaker, possibly disappearing altogether.
This thought got me wondering about other philosophies of education. What about more Eastern trains of thought such as learning through experience or ritual formalism? These types of learning are more based around a trial and error approach. The student keeps performing the task over and over until it has been perfected. An instructor may step in at times to make corrections but overall the responsibility is on the student to observe others and learn. There’s a reason why my social work program involves the experiential element of field placement work. It is no mystery that approaches similar to ritual formalism and experience learning work best. For example, we know from empirical studies that repeated testing is more effective than traditional studying. So what is it about these different approaches to learning that makes them better and why haven’t they become the norm in our public education curriculum? Does actually experiencing the act of discovery learning help us building stronger synaptic connections? Do these hands on experiences help to form distinct memories that we can retrieve the answers from? Maybe if we find the answers to some of these questions, American educational institutions will be more likely to revamp their teaching techniques.