The Learning Process: Part 2

At the beginning of each of these subsequent posts in this five-part series about the learning process as described by Robert Gilman, I want to make sure and reference the original article.

Read the previous post — Part 1: Motivation — if you haven’t had a chance.

Part 2: Immersion

Now that you’re motivated, where to begin? How do you begin learning about a topic/subject/concept? With most tasks, we would attempt to create a checklist or set of steps that could define our journey — one step at a time — toward understanding. With certain basic types of knowledge transfer, like baking chocolate chip cookies or finding the refraction index of a specific substance, we can do that. We look up the information (thank you, Internet), and voila! We have delicious cookies to eat. However, with more complex issues, we must take a different approach.

For instance, if you wanted to learn about astronomy and view the night sky, you would need to compile more resources. But where would you begin? Even if you found a starting place, would you simply read an entire book before moving on to watch a video? Down the line, when you have specific tasks to complete, you can institute that linear model, but when you don’t know what you don’t know, you need to surround yourself with resources of your choosing. In Gilman’s terms, you need to immerse yourself in the content. How you do that is up to you, because no one else is more qualified to determine the boundaries of your understanding than you are.

Gilman’s metaphor for this is putting together a puzzle. When you dump the pieces out on the table, you don’t try and line them all up in the right spot and then start putting them together. You turn them over one by one and begin making associations and connections. You may look for edge pieces first, or just go for prominent parts of the image that you recognize from your limited understanding of the whole (i.e. the box cover). This is what we do with a complex issue in our learning. We bounce around engaging in content absorption how and when we are most comfortable doing so. We immerse ourselves in the learning. We change the rate at which we consume information, the resources we use, the medium through which we learn, and much more.

As an example, I have become interested in Astronomy. How long that will last, I don’t know, but in the meantime, I am trying to learn all that I can. This will all lead up to the building of a telescope (hopefully). I can’t just start building a telescope. If I did, I would have a piece of equipment I know nothing about. Most likely, I wouldn’t build it correctly, even following the instructions, simply because my level of understanding about how it works and what I can do with it is so limited. Therefore, I am immersing myself in understanding some things about Astronomy, some about telescopes and their constituent parts, and some extraneous things I’ve noticed along the way. I need to remember not to pressure myself, but I am not just doing one thing at a time in a logical manner that will eventually bring me to a place of being an expert. Here are some of the resources I have used so far:

  • Library book on building a telescope (discusses background, physics behind it, etc.)
  • Videos online about stars, astronomical events, etc.
  • iPad apps looking at stars, celestial events, and so on
  • Looking at free online Astronomy courses and their resources

I switch back and forth between different resources as I need. I am engaging multiple senses that operate at a capacity unique to me and my learning preferences. The skills I already have are being put to use in the best possible way. The learning is dispersed amongst those skills, instead of me neglecting certain ones to follow a prescribed path. As I do this, I am getting a better view of the puzzle. The pieces are coming together as I leverage the skills and capabilities I have.

Do we let our students immerse themselves in the learning? Are we too quick to try and give them a list of tasks with instructions before they are ever ready? Consider the type of learning being done and the content involved. Then, let the students have choice and some freedom in their approach. Let them experience immersion as they will, so that their learning is self-driven and so that they come out of it with considerably more knowledge and understanding than before. With that, they can proceed to Part 3 and begin to integrate that learning through application.

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