Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

February 25, 2012

Some myths surround the learning process

In past columns, I have reviewed principles from a 2010 book, “How Learning Works” by five educators in the Pittsburgh area (Jossey Bass publisher).

There is a 2012 DVD course “How We Learn” by Dr. Monisha Pasupathi of the psychology department at the University of Utah. Dr. Pasupathi received her doctorate at Stanford, did a post doctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute of Human Development, is married and has several children. Pasupathi has been recognized for her teaching as well as having authored and coauthored 10 books.

This course is part of the array of college level courses by The Great Courses of Chantilly, Va., which has produced hundreds of courses since the 1980s.

“How We Learn” considers learning from childhood, adulthood and for seniors, noting the common features and differences. Along with the DVD course and accompanying course guidebook, one can also get a transcript of the entire course which has 24 30-minute lectures.    

First, how does Dr. Pasupathi define learning? To paraphrase, “Learning is a change in a person’s understanding, knowledge or abilities that stem from one’s experience.”As we age, our brain changes as we accumulate new experiences.

Memory is storing and recalling past experiences while learning is the acquisition of new information and abilities. To learn, we must be able to recall (memory). Some learning is through conscious effort (ex. studying, writing) while other learning takes place without much awareness (ex. learning how to recognize a person’s face).

  Pasupathi’s first lecture is on the Myths of Learning, which I found interesting. Here are few of her main points. One myth is that when learning is going well, we feel confident and clearly understand.

Actually moments of confusion, frustration and uncertainty are also part of the learning process. They occur when our preconceived notions are shown to be wrong and the brain has to “let go” of these notions, no matter how comforting or emotionally satisfying they are.

Another myth is “If you don’t find a topic interesting, you can’t learn or won’t learn about this topic.” Interest will help motivate you to learn. But any new subject requires some reading or thought so you can develop a foundation awareness that may lead to interest and learning.

Another myth is “Intelligent people learn more easily and better than less intelligent people.” Here Pasupathi points out that having a high IQ may mean that you have learned more, but not necessarily that the learning was easier.

A popular myth is “Learning is like opening up your brain and pouring knowledge into it.”Learning isn’t passive, for there are no empty brains. For learning depends on prior knowledge and your assumptions about this knowledge. To learn new ideas requires coming to terms with what you think you already know.

Other lectures include: Learning a Second Language, Learning Approaches in Math and Science, Are Learning Styles Real? and Making the most of How We Learn.

THE SKY THIS WEEK: Tonight the crescent moon appears to the right of the bright planet Jupiter with the brilliant planet Venus below the moon. The evening moon will grow to half full on Wednesday, offering splendid views of the craters and mountain ranges through binoculars (held steadily) or a telescope on a tripod.

On March 3, Mars will be opposite the sun, rising in the East at sunset and staying in view all through the night. Mars has an orange tint, different from the other bright planets (Jupiter & Venus).

LAST BEAR SHOW: This afternoon at 4 p.m. we will have our last program, “Bears and their Skies” in Compton Center Room 224. Enter Compton on the second floor entrance that faces northeast towards the older part of campus (Old Main, Lowndes, College Avenue).

Next month’s Sunday programs will be on “Hooved Animals of Northern Lands” (such as reindeer, moose, elk). Our programs feature a tour of the Science Discovery Center where these animals are on display and waiting to have their pictures taken.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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Bob Doyle - Astronomy
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