Learning, thinking and doing
Learning, thinking and doing

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Learning, thinking and doing

2.2.2 Understanding

Much more important than memorising, where academic study is concerned, is understanding. This is the kind of learning which requires a willingness by the learner to work with ideas and concepts, and a willingness to explore whether an idea has really been mastered or only partially grasped. Making mistakes can be a helpful stage in this kind of learning because the mistakes can reveal what it is that is not understood. It is when we put right, or sort out, such mistakes in understanding that we clarify our thinking and build a firm basis for later study.

The methods appropriate for this kind of learning typically require the learner to work actively with new information and ideas. This can be achieved by inviting learners to apply, or to elaborate, or to evaluate what they have been given. They can also be asked to create their own ideas and frameworks. The learner is active because he or she is applying ideas to different contexts, or checking out relationships in a variety of scenarios, or testing out generalisations against many different cases. Drawing graphical representations of how different ideas relate to each other is also a very productive way of checking out whether we understand, and exploring how firmly we have grasped something. Perhaps the most telling activity of all is to try to teach another what we have just learned.

'Teachback', where one learner spends a few minutes trying to teach another a theory or concept they both need to understand, can be an extremely effective way of sorting out the known from the unknown or the confused. All these activities 'give birth to learning' because they foster independent thought, self-checking and construction of links and relationships between the different areas of our own knowledge and thinking (Laurillard, 1993).


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