Learning is so much more than learning facts and methods

2 min read

It has become fashionable to see learning as the memorisation of facts, methods, processes and information. That effective schooling principally involves children committing information to long-term memory. However, the accumulation of information is insufficient for effective human functioning. As we, as individuals, develop we cannot rely on abstracted knowledge, we have to learn to act in the world. We have to respond to unique situations, we have to use our knowledge to act, and we have to reformulate the things we have in memory to respond to the situations we meet.

It is important that we learn how to use knowledge as much as it is to learn facts, methods, processes and information.

We live in a physcal and social world. The problems and challenges we encounter require us to solve real-world problems as well as being able to establish and maintain relationships with other people. Often we face situations that require us to collaborate to generate and implement solutions.

When we conceptualise learning as the acquisition of knowledge – learning as memorisation – it diminishes personal agency: the capacity to act and behave freely and make choices. It suggests that sufficient knowledge essentially programmes us to respond adequately and to communicate effectively. At the heart of the idea of agency is the capacity to reason. When we are confronted with a situation we can make choices. What we choose to do is based on our interpretation of what confronts us and the mental and physical resources that we have to hand.

In schools, it is essential that pedagogy is balanced so learners have the opportunity to create, solve problems, collaborate and discuss. Children need to develop the confidence and skills to learn how to use knowledge and to communicate effectively. They need the chance to exercise agency, to interpret, reason, analyse and make decisions.

Of course it is relatively easy to assess the acquisition of knowledge. On the other hand, creating opportunities to exercise agency and reason, and to assess progress in these things is far more challenging. This explains why teaching in secondary schools and many primary schools tends to the former. It is not because it is optimal learning, it is mostly because it is more manageable.

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