David Amerland
Sunday March 25 2018 - Learning


It was Albert Einstein who famously said: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Teaching, when done properly, is so complicated because the designated teacher is tasked not only with the accurate transmission of knowledge, information and data.

In case you think I am repeating myself, consider that despite the loose usage of the words in our day-to-day life, they are actually different and the difference is significant enough to warrant a deeper dive. While teachers are (or at the very least, should be) capable of transmitting to their pupils all three in a way that creates the learning conditions espoused by Einstein, the pupils themselves can learn faster by engaging in, an almost reverse engineering process of information transmission which would then require that they better develop and understand their own knowledge and begin to comprehend what’s data.

Learning by teaching is a concept that works because teaching itself, as an activity, requires mental modelling, empathy, visualization and predictive analytics in order to work. As a matter of fact, when divorced from the cut-and-dried approach of presentation>learning>memory it becomes a multi-disciplinary exercise that recruits machine learning and psychology, neuroscience, culture and semantic memory.

To complicate matters further consider that learning itself is divided between active learning and passive learning. As with anything that has to do with neuroscience at the moment the more we learn the more we understand that we knew little before and the more we feel we may not have understood much to begin with.

As a matter of fact the very model of how the brain learns has just been overturned after 70 years. Because of the age we live in this has inevitable impact on the learning models we apply to our silicon-based creations. Not only is machine learning helping us understand the brain better but there is also a movement to more closely integrate neuroscience and machine learning.

Teaching and learning are bound together by storytelling and emotion:

and, as Bill Gates says, “everyone needs a coach”.

As Ken Robinson says in his TED Talk on education, learning will be revolutionized the moment it becomes personalized:

Ken Robinson has also said that schools kill creativity. We know that we are facing a real crisis when even educated, intelligent people have trouble learning. Our apparent defenses and our casual resistance to change are rooted in fears that we often fail to acknowledge and therefore fail to overcome.

Where do we go from here? How do we re-learn to learn when every challenge we face today is complex enough to demand adaptability and change and we are hardwired by evolution to resist both? It’s a quandary which, like so many of today’s challenges, is difficult to address because it demands an overhaul of our entire legacy system (in this case, education).

Ken Robinson (again) has a thing or two to say about education’s ‘death valley’ and our way out of there:

In truth, as Bernie Dunlap demonstrates as snipers, athletes and top-flight pilots demonstrate we must become life-long learners. Not only will this make us more useful to our communities, tribes, work groups and life partners but it will also enable us to find deeper aspects of our selves which we have yet to plumb.

So, today, I hope you’ve learnt enough in life by now to know that the day starts with coffee, accompanied by donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

© 2019 David Amerland. All rights reserved