LEARNING – PART 1

by J. Vazquez

October 1st, 2018 - Initially published in July 2016 as part of 3DENT’s newsletter. Edited and Republished in October 2018.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset and professor of Psychology at Stanford University tells us that people's attitudes fall into one or two categories: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. "With a fixed mindset, you believe you are who you are and you cannot change. People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. Failure is information - we label it failure, but it's more like, 'This didn't work, and I'm a problem solver, so I'll try something else." In some ways, this seems to indicate that we are set in the way we are and there isn’t much we can do about it. However; she provides steps to change this CLICK HERE. This idea of fostering learning and creativity for innovation is one of my primary concerns for 3DENT, as I am always looking to improve our understanding and implementation so we can excel at it.

 

In the Wikipedia page on learning, many types of learning are listed, including Non-associative and Associative learning, Play, Enculturation, Episodic learning, Multimedia, E-learning learning and augmented learning, Rote learning, Meaningful learning, Formal and Nonformal learning and combined approaches, Tangential learning, Dialogic learning and Incidental learning. They also mention Active learning (though it is not listed as a “type” of learning). Of these, play and active learning are most interesting to me. The Wikipedia page goes on to state that “active learning occurs when a person takes control of [his/her] learning experience… and encourages learners to have an internal dialogue in which they are verbalizing their understandings… and this learning is usually at a stronger level.

 

The reason play is of particular interest to me as it pertains to learning is that most people would agree that our highest rate of learning takes place during childhood, and that a lot of the learning children do happens through play. I’d imagine that many engineers got their start by playing with Legos or Lincoln Blocks. Below, I am including selected quotes about the importance of play, from Tracking the Milkyway​.

  • You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Plato

  • Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good. Lucia Capocchione

  • In our play we reveal what kind of people we are. Ovid

  • Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning. Diane Ackerman

  • Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. Abraham Maslow

  • Whoever wants to understand much must play much. Gottfried Benn

  • Play fosters belonging and encourages cooperation. Stuart Brown, M.D.

  • People tend to forget that play is serious. David Hockney

  • Play is training for the unexpected. Marc Bekoff

  • It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self. D.W. Winnicott

  • Play is the beginning of knowledge. Anonymous

  • It is becoming increasingly clear through research on the brain, as well as in other areas of study, that childhood needs play. Play acts as a forward feed mechanism into courageous, creative, rigorous thinking in adulthood. Tina Bruce

  • Play builds the kind of free-and-easy, try-it-out, do-it-yourself character that our future needs. James L. Hymes Jr.

  • The main characteristic of play – whether of child or adult – is not its content but its mode. Play is an approach to action, not a form of activity. Jerome Bruner

  • Play is the highest form of research. Albert Einstein

So, why is it that we don’t do or encourage more of this in the work place? I believe that as consultants, we are expected to portray a degree of expertise and unfortunately, we associate expertise with “knowing” not

“learning.” This self-imposed rigidity ends up killing innovation. As Frank Loyd Wright put it, “an expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows,’” (see https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/06/08/frank-lloyd-wright-quotations-pomegranate/).

 

This is not news, as it was aptly described by John W. Gardner in his 1964 Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society publication, saying that “when organizations and societies are young, they are flexible, fluid, not yet paralyzed by rigid specialization and willing to try anything once. As the organization or society ages, vitality diminishes, flexibility gives way to rigidity, creativity fades and there is a loss of capacity to meet challenges from unexpected directions.” (quoted from https://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/07/14/self-renewal-gardner/).

 

One of my favorite authors and Nobel Prize winner, Richard Feynman, once stated that he didn’t believe in honors and that instead, “the prize is the pleasure of finding a thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it — those are the real things.” (quoted from http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/06/08/richard-feynman-caltech-cargo-cult-science/).

 

Going back to the idea that it is easier to learn while young than later in life, a recent study by a UCLA postdoctoral student, Kuhlman and her colleagues indicated that “when [we are] young [we] haven’t experienced much, so [our] brain needs to be a sponge that soaks up all types of information… As adults, we’ve already learned a great number of things, so our brains don’t necessarily need to soak up every piece of information. This doesn’t mean that adults can’t learn, it just means when they learn, their neurons need to behave differently” (http://www.futurity.org/old-brains-cant-learn-new-tricks/).

 

So, how do we go about ensuring we promote a culture of learning? An article entitled “Learning to Learn” (copy right by Newfield Network 2000 – unpublished work protected by copyright law in the United States), which combines articles written by Julio Olalla and Rafael Echeverria, attempts “to define some of the indispensable requirements for learning.” They start by identifying “Enemies of Learning” listed as follows:

  1. Inability to admit that we do not know (propensity to see everything as “more of the same” instead of as something new)

  2. Given the way I am, I cannot learn “that” (not clever enough or lack of disposition for a topic)

  3. The phenomenon of cognitive blindness (we don’t know what we don’t know)

  4. Not assigning priority to learning (“I haven’t got the time”)

  5. Significance (losing the ability to laugh at oneself)

  6. Triviality (can’t take anything seriously)

  7. Inability to unlearn (if it worked well before, why should it not work well now?)

  8. Forgetting the body (learning takes place in the body of the learner not just in the mind)

  9. Confusing learning with acquiring information (not being able to translate information in to action means all we have is an ability to repeat certain assertions)

  10. Absence of adequate emotional context (a simple discovery in a supportive environment creates more learning than a masterpiece that we get to know through imposition and harassment)

  11. Not giving permission to another to teach us (when we declare someone as our teacher, we invest this person with trust and authority)

  12. Mistrust (the only way to get to our destination when we do not know is by trusting our teacher and allowing them to guide us)

 

From the above, the one I can relate the most is “significance.” The reason I think that’s one of the most dangerous positions to take when it comes to learning is that while there is risk in learning, the impediment of significance is self-afflicting. Furthermore, we can easily overcome it by simply realizing that no matter how important we think we may be, most of the time people are not looking at us or evaluating us as they are involved in their own worlds.

Related to this, it is sad that we have come to accept as a given that learning decreases with experience (or age), as evidenced by the typical s-shape learning curves widely available, and depicted below from http://thelearningcurve.pearson.com/.

This doesn’t have to be the case! With intention, we can engage in active learning. One thing we do at 3DENT is to promote the idea that teaching is a way of freeing ourselves for learning something new. On this topic, the Olalla and Echeverria paper quotes philosopher John R. Searle as saying this:

 

“Persons can be taught to get to a point at which they can teach themselves. I don’t believe I can’t teach my students to philosophize, but I can certainly make them keep their noses to the grindstone and point out their mistakes so that eventually they are able to teach themselves. The disturbing thing of all this is that when they become really good, they begin to refute me. This is a nuisance, but at least officially, I must admit its convenience. When they manage to get to the point in which they can respect their teacher or respect the books that I ask them to read, and yet they point out the inadequacies that they detect, then I know that we are doing all right.”

 

So, while I am not looking forward to the day I make myself obsolete by passing all my know-how to our staff, I am certainly looking forward to the day when our currently young staff become the experts I turn to for help and I am free to pursue new areas for play and learning. Perhaps the secret to continued learning is expanding our range so that we are always dwelling in fields where we do not have a lot of experience and this allows us to be on the steep part of the learning curve.

© 2018 by 3Dent Technology, LLC.