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Author Topic: Why Is Learning New Things Hard?  (Read 6762 times)

Offline davidjuliowang

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Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« on: 12/04/2006 23:29:09 »
I believe that learning something new is directly correlated with how comfortable someone is with the new concept.

This idea doesn't seem terribly unique, but my additional thought I think does have a lot of merit.

Comfort is an esoteric idea, but I think a tolerable definition is that it : is a feeling associated with safety stemming from moments imprinted during childhood and pre-childhood.

In other words, comfort is a feeling which is very, very deeply ingrained in the human subconcious, I would say all the way down to the genetic level.

So, if comfortis a feeling attached to our genes, it is a hereditary trait that has been passed down for generations, lots and lots of generations, thousands of generations, perhaps it is even a quality which predates cromagnon man and found its origins in the genes of man's animal forbears.

So feeling "comfortable" is a very old feeling indeed.
It is perhaps both an instinctan a feeling.
How do instincts play themselves out in human and animal behavior?
They are reflexive reactions to environmental stimuli, which do not even pass through concious-neocortex level reasoning;
they are reactions which happen without thought.

So, if comfort is also instinctive then the quality of learning something new needs the learner to feel comfortable with what he or she is learning, otherwise part of them will react instinctively to the learned thing by not wholly learning it.

Looking at primitive man, when he encountered a new form of animal or plant life, he treated it cautiously because he didn't feel comfortable around it.
In order to learn about it, to come to understand it, he had to spend time with it, get to know it, become "comfortable" around it.
Once he associated this new thing with comfort, he could learn about it with ease and enjoy its presence.

In a Nutshell:
1. In order to learn something, someone must needs feel comfortable with it.
2. Comfort is both a feeling an an instinct.
3. Comfort is a reaction to the environment, which is both concious and unconcious.
4. The characteristic of comfort is something embedded deep in genetic structure and has likely been inherited from primitive man, perhaps even from animal forbears.
5. Primitive man became comfortable with a new thing by spending time with it, observing it, becoming comfortable with it. Then, he could come to understand it.
6. The same thing applies to us now, to learn something new one must needs spend time with it, observe it, become comfortable with it. Then, he/she can come to understand it.

I think this idea has a lot of merit and I feel the "truthfulness" of it inside of myself.

I will be posting to it again when some more thoughts cross my synapses.

"When Given A Choice Between Two Paths, Take The Third Path." (Talaxian Saying)
« Last Edit: 12/04/2006 23:31:29 by davidjuliowang »


 

Offline davidjuliowang

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Re: Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #1 on: 12/04/2006 23:40:19 »
I just thought of something else I wanted to add.

In schools there is a general consensus among the students that when something is difficult to understand you disregard it.

Oh sure, students might still do well on tests.

I think this is a result of: memorisation and regurgitation and oblivion.
Or, "remember it for the test, then forget about it for the rest (of your life)."

Needless to say, this is not learning, but it is sorry excuse for learning that schools employ.

Learning is a feeling, not a word to be burped out on command.

Remember Chareles Dickens' "Hard Times" and the quadraped scenario.
Sure, you can give a dictionary definition, but knowing a horse means riding a horse, means caressing a horse, means looking into a horse's eyes.
Our schools still don't get that, and that's why kids eyes glaze over like winter ponds during so much time in school.
Why?
Kids are smart and insulting their intelligence by forcing them to memorize (I won't dean to honor school education systems with the word 'teach') a bunch of data, is not learning.

Comfort.
Comfort is not a word most kids would associate with school.
More like punishment.
Jail for kids until they go home, or at best daycare, or child minding service.

Naked Scientists:
Why aren't kids excited about science?
Because it's hard, but, make it fun, make it "comfortable" (like a horse you ride, pet, and talk to) and science will be right up there with Barney the Purple Dinosaur and the Beatles.

"When Given A Choice Between Two Paths, Take The Third Path." (Talaxian Saying)
 

another_someone

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Re: Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #2 on: 13/04/2006 05:09:11 »
quote:
Originally posted by davidjuliowang
Comfort.
Comfort is not a word most kids would associate with school.
More like punishment.
Jail for kids until they go home, or at best daycare, or child minding service.



Taken out of context, this is one issue I would give unqualified agreement to, and modern laws that actually do imprison parents unless their children regularly attend school only exaggerate this process (I suppose it is a natural reversal of the notion that he sins of the father shall be visited upon the child – now it is the sins of the child being visited upon the parent – and the presumption that non-attendance at school is regarded as a sin).

Beyond that, the rest of what you say seems very vague.  You have not really defined what are the things that people learning.

You say “In order to learn something, someone must needs feel comfortable with it” - but what is the “it” that they are learning?

One division I would make is between the learning of facts, and the learning of models.  Some of what you say might have more pertinence to the latter than the former, but much of school learning is about cramming facts to pass exams, and the hope that the children will acquire a model as a byproduct of the learning the facts (the reality is that teachers, even if they comprehend the difference, and many might well, they simply are not given the time to do anything but cram facts into children's minds).

It would clearly be silly to suggest that in a direct sense that an individual has an inherited predisposition to learning the height of Mount Everest, but it does not seem unreasonable to me to assume that some people have a natural (and genetically inheritable) predisposition to a mathematical view of the universe, while other people may have a natural predisposition for a more human oriented view of the universe, and others are more comfortable with a more visual interpretation of the universe.





George
 

Offline davidjuliowang

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Re: Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #3 on: 13/04/2006 22:26:06 »
I just have something I really want to say.
I will compose a more extensively thought out response after I have given your response more thought.

It is absolutely ridiculous that the best human civilization has been able to come up with to this point is a
"Hit and Miss"
system of education.

"Let's just try to cram the wee one's heads with all the words we've put on the various organs that comprise the endocrine system and maybe, just maybe, if we're ever so lucky, and cows jump over moons, pigs fly, and kids get up in the morning excited to go to school, we'll actually get 1 out of the 30 children to gain the vaguest idea of how the system works."

Oh boy...

It is so utterly pathetic that I wonder how I ever managed to stay still in school.
Oh, that's right, I was pumped full of ritalin (like so many children who are also bored and just can't sit still).

"Hurrah for our Hit and Miss school system."

...ok. Now that my frustration has been vented (and I think it is VITALLY important that parents and future-parents recognize that our school system is terribly unsatisfactory, and are VERY frustrated with it) I propose a solution.

Schools should take an "Outside-Inside" approach to education.

What?

Outside-Inside.
Show children what happens in the "Outside World" first and then show chidren how it works in the "Inside World" of the classroom.

I can think of one example right off the bat.
I work in construction and trigonometry is used everyday.
If children want to work in construction then trig will be applicable (although, it's such simple maths that only a few days of instruction will teach children what they need for the job).

If a child gets excited by what he sees in construction, he can channel that excitement into his studies of trigonometry.
Children need to be excited by what they're learning, see that it really does have value in the outside world.

I'll explore this idea more in another post.
The idea just exploded in my mind after reading George's post.

I'll respond to your post in a more thought out way soon George.



"When Given A Choice Between Two Paths, Take The Third Path." (Talaxian Saying)
 

another_someone

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Re: Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #4 on: 13/04/2006 23:20:17 »
There is almost nothing in what you have said, or what I understand of it, that I can find to disagree with.

The only thing I would ask of the mods is whether this is really psychology and medicine, or rapidly approaching a more political discussion that sits better in the chat forum.

My own view is that, if I were dictator of the world, I would reduce the school leaving age to 12 or 14.  At that age, if young people are not ready to learn, then it is wasting everyone's time imprisoning them in school.

Many people will find reason to want to learn throughout their teens, while others may find good reason to return to education only after spending some time in the real world, where they can put that education into some context.  For this reason, my own view is that we should put far greater investment (and by that, I don't only mean money, but providing a social framework that allows people the time) in lifelong education, where people even in their 40's, 50's, 60's; rather than just being thrown on the scrap heap because they have not had the time to keep up with the latest changes in knowledge, can enhance their education in a context where that education may make more sense to them then it did when they were 15.

There is also the additional problem that because education is seen by most people as something that is only appropriate for children, it can be seen by children themselves as something that is a signal of their child status, and not something that grown-ups do.

I was very fortunate in that I had a mother who always had an interest in maths and technology, and was never critical of me if I got bored at school, so long as she could see that I could find my own way of learning, so I also developed a lifelong interest in informal learning, even if I never developed much respect for the institutions of formal learning.

One other issue is that most people perceive that over the last generation of two, people perceive a trend in schools that are increasingly becoming unmanageable, this over a time period where there has been a commensurate trend in mandating a continually increasing school leaving age, so young people who two generations ago would not have been required to remain within the school system, are now increasingly imprisoned within the school system, and these people are being understandably uncooperative with a system they do not want to be a part of, and the teachers are finding this group of young people ever more disruptive.



George
« Last Edit: 14/04/2006 00:43:10 by another_someone »
 

Offline davidjuliowang

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Re: Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #5 on: 16/04/2006 02:19:46 »
I am still contemplating our discussion George.

I say that it is a topic very, very important to me as I was terribly disatisfied with my own schooling and refuse to subject my future children to "Lilluputian Gymnastics" and try to convince myself that it is education.

"Real Education Empowers, Not Sours Life"

And, I will, be inserting some relevant physiological and biochemical thoughts on the subject as well.
The ideas are all cooking away merrily in my frontal lobes, but, I've learned (no thanks to the sorry excuse for schooling we have) not to rush my ideas.

I have a question to close this tirade with,
"If our education system is hit and miss, what are we supposed to do with the loads of children who were missed?"

"When Given A Choice Between Two Paths, Take The Third Path." (Talaxian Saying)
 

Offline Andrew K Fletcher

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Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #6 on: 15/04/2008 09:41:52 »
Relevant to education today. What is the point of trying to learn a child French who lives in the West Midlands and seldom meets a French person. Take the same children to France for a week, go shopping, see how children in French Schools interact and then try teaching the same children French.

In Torbay we are visited by thousands of students from all over the world. They come here because their own education system appears to recognise the need for a hands on approach to learning a new language. These student breath a delightful breath of fresh air into the bay each year, and in doing so stimulate our own children with the desire to travel and live with families in foreign lands and take lessons in foreign schools. The whole student exchange programme is a wonderful example of what David and George have been discussing here. There are many more examples. Say how about a trip to NASA for children who have expressed themselves as being interested in science? What about working on a farm in Europe, America or even Africa for those who are considering a more down to earth approach?

I think this thread is brilliant and deserves a little more attention!

Congrats Guys
 

Offline BenV

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Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #7 on: 15/04/2008 13:28:13 »
Quote
1. In order to learn something, someone must needs feel comfortable with it.

I completely disagree.

Often, the best way to learn is to leave your 'comfort zone' and try something you're not comfortable with.  This means that things that are hard have a steep learning curve.  If you get a new job and hit the ground running you will not be comfortable with it for a while. But in that time you will learn a great deal.

Once we become comfortable, we stop learning.

Quote
Looking at primitive man, when he encountered a new form of animal or plant life, he treated it cautiously because he didn't feel comfortable around it.
In order to learn about it, to come to understand it, he had to spend time with it, get to know it, become "comfortable" around it.
Once he associated this new thing with comfort, he could learn about it with ease and enjoy its presence.

Good description, but you've missed the point.  The 'becoming comfortable' is the learning.  You first meet a cat - it scares you because it has teeth and claws, makes strange noises and doesn't act in a predictable way.  As you learn that it only bites or scratches in certain situations, and it likes some things and dislikes others, you become more comfortable.  Once you are comfortable, you have already learned a great deal.  I'll not often compare maths to cats, but higher maths is similar - initially confusing, unpredictable, disquieting, but as you develop and learn more about manipulating numbers, you become more comfortable with mathematical questions.
 

Offline BenV

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Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #8 on: 15/04/2008 13:34:44 »
Re: Andrews post.

I agree - more opportunity to use the skills you have learned (i.e. sending french classes to france) or observe the things you're interested in (NASA trip) would be great.

Sadly, the UK's education budget is stretched as is, but even then we don't take full advantage of the resources in this country. Largely because teachers can't justify a trip with no definite learning outcome that can attach to the curriculum.

Having said that, I know of a school that sends a year group (which is only about 15 kids) to France for a term.  They come back basically fluent.

 

Offline Andrew K Fletcher

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Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
« Reply #9 on: 16/04/2008 10:19:59 »
A trip to Normandy to see the war cemeteries would undoubtedly perturb many would be recruits from joining the army
 

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Why Is Learning New Things Hard?
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