Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning by connection

Recently, I read this article in Scientific American.  The article summarizes research in to how human memory works.  It turns out humans tend to remember things in clusters.  If asked to list animals, the majority of respondents will list them in groups say pets, then maybe farm animals and so on.  It is believed that this way of memory formation came from foraging.

Last week, I stumbled upon this article.  Scientists are studying children and the way they learn complex things, such as language in, order to create computers that are smarter.  One huge limitation of computers, as they exist right now, is they lack the complex thinking skills that involve clustering and connecting things, especially things that are random or seemingly unconnected.

 Biology has wired the human brain to seek and create connections between pieces of information.  As young children, many of the connections we make come from the environment around us.  We may learn that peas are green, that mom does not like peas from her facial expression, that grass is green too but we don't eat it, that cows do eat grass, and so on.  These connections are random and connect the information we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch together into a database we can access.

The primary limitation of most educational venues, such as schools, is that they disconnect this powerful approach to human learning,  sever subjects from one another, and remove children from the experiential world they had been learning in up until they started formal schooling.  A classroom is not a natural learning environment, it has only become the standard learning environment.

School settings lack what the real world offers, the opportunity for random information to collide and connect in unexpected and unpredictable ways.  While writing this post I thought of a quote I found in the Harvard Business Review (May 2012),
"We don't need to send kids to school to have a curriculum delivered to them.  Instead, we should be focused on helping kids become adept learners who, given the access they have on the internet to the sum of human knowledge, will be asked to create their own education rather than receive one parceled out in classrooms that in no way resemble the real world."  Will Richardson
 Doing research on Will Richardson I found this video.  It is a great time to be a self directed learner.

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