Learning for the sake of learning

Imagine the last long drive you went for. There was no aim, just driving and pitstops when you feel like it. A stop for food because you felt like eating at a roadside stall or wanted to admire the sunset. Remember, there is no aim here- it is driving for pure joy.

Likewise, picture yourself as a learner just driving, if you may, into the world of knowledge. There is no aim, again, just a pleasure being pursued. Perhaps you were staring at the glass in your hand and wished to know how the shape came to be. So, you read something online, a possible history of glass design. Thereafter, you overheard a conversation surrounding Existentialism and sat by yourself reflecting upon what it means to exist!

John Green, in a popular TED talk, compared learning to personal cartography- making one’s own map. It is the documentation of one’s explorations- a mental map of ideas explored. It is an adventure one can always set out for- takes the tiniest of triggers. In the instance above, it was the glass and the conversation triggering one’s learning process- the curiosity, if you may. Sometimes, one is even on the edge with only a way back; the pursuit of an inquiry is often a cul-de-sac, an unsolved mystery. One can approach it in multiple ways and yet, converge at the wall. Perhaps, the origin of human life meets this fate. A breakthrough that wall is a discovery.

However, we have been trained to learn with a goal in mind. From a young age, grading systems are introduced and emphasized upon. The threat of passing or failing pushes one to learn quickly and ‘correctly’ regardless of one’s interest. Every subject is picked for the level of intelligence it signals to society. Every internship or job applied to for the value it creates on one’s resume. In all this, learning is undertaken for a purpose- its adventurous-self is reduced to purpose. It hands you a map, detailing the route and the destination- digressions are forbidden.

It is not a horribly made map, just dusted probably- it has been used so much, it is historic. Dust it off, and one may find new routes to the same destination. The teachers may take a seat among the students, and they may dive into knowledge together. Or there are more projects than classes which lead to the same goal of the curriculum but through unique approaches. The core is, to value a subject for the adventure it brings with itself, not for the grades or marks at the end. Studying need not be deprived of adventures.

Think about the technology nerds who work as doctors, the friends obsessed with trivia- there is no productive element to that knowledge. They learnt it because they enjoyed it. That is learning for the sake of learning. It is an adventure created by you and yet automatic.

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Think of that time in class when a group project was announced. The teacher said, ‘pick a partner’ and almost instantly you knew who yours was. An idea of fun kicked in and the project activity was certainly looked forward to. While some learners enjoy group activities, some do not. But, beyond the component of fun, co-learning benefits all learners.

Co-learning implies learning with peers and so simply put, group projects. Two types of learning which deal with groups are- collaborative and cooperative. The two differ from each other based on the absence (collaborative) or presence (cooperative) of an instructor. So, group projects as part of curriculum facilitated by teachers are a form of cooperative learning. Collaborative learning rests the authority of the project and its discussion with the group itself. The benefits of co-learning are common to both.

Co-learning breeds new ideas and skills. Working with others exposes learners to different methods and styles of learning. The horizons of learning are widened as new perspectives are given room. The problem at hand is understood more deeply and through different angles. The solutions listed are numerous and more thorough.

To learn with other learners is to place individual learning in the larger context of a group. Every individual’s insight is a contribution to the group’s understanding which in turn, impacts every individual’s learning. Every individual is thus part of something bigger than themselves. It instils responsibility of task, a sense of contribution and

Co-learning promotes development of interpersonal faculties, inculcating among learners the ability to work with others. One learns to listen and empathize with their fellows in times of need. They learn to express discomfort and assert themselves respectfully.

Learners learn to support each other and share responsibilities to attain mutual goals. There is recognition of one’s strengths and weaknesses; our own weakness is someone else’s strength which effectively amounts to learners with varied strengths working together.

Another key learning is resolution of conflicts. The differential experiences, capabilities and preferences of learners may often clash among themselves creating a tough atmosphere. In a group project, with a deadline and an expected outcome, conflicts need to be resolved to make any progress. Hence, one learns to compromise and negotiate.

So, learning in groups is fun and laden with benefits. The playful jest lightens the possible stress, a laugh or two lifts the spirit, the workload is shared, and numerous skills unlocked!

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Learning benefits teaching

Teaching is an act of sharing knowledge about a particular topic. Invariably, this activity involves an audience and a varied audience, at that. It’s the presence of this audience, of learners awaiting new understanding that makes teaching a challenging task. Learning by oneself is easier- we have a fair idea of our strengths, weaknesses, and our preferred medium of learning. The involvement of other learners presents the teacher with multiple combinations of varied capabilities and preferences in learning.

Learning makes teaching more effective. The goal of teaching is to facilitate an understanding. Given a varied audience, the teacher needs to individually cater to the multitude of learning preferences. Assume the topic for the day is Rain. Some may prefer a visual aid like a video of a rainy day, while some may like a graphic novel- a story weaved into the concept of rain with the sky and clouds as characters. Both require the teacher to have learnt to use these media to explain the concept effectively. In this case, to learn is to explore new avenues of explanation. The introduction of projectors and slideshows is a new avenue. To perform a short skit imbibing the fundamentals of a concept is one, too.

Learning enables the teacher to guide different students differently. The preferences in learning are varied to the extent that some prefer to have a basic understanding while some prefer a more nuanced foundation. The heart pumps blood to the rest of the body is a satisfactory concept to some. Yet others may want a closer look into the anatomy, knowing exactly where it is that blood enters first in the heart, what creates the pump and how it is transported to the different body parts through different vessels.

Similarly, a learner may be content with knowing about the six planets in our solar system and yet another may want to explore asteroids and meteors or different facts about the Milky Way galaxy or a new galaxy altogether. These differential needs lead the teacher back to the drawing board to, this time, learn more deeply to guide the understanding in a new direction which the learner may enjoy. A broad and deep understanding of the topic equips the teacher to nurture new inquiries.

Thus, learning significantly improves teaching. Built into this conclusion is the dynamic nature of learning- our understanding of a concept is always evolving, and rightly so. There are hidden treasures of insights under different beds of knowledge. The best teachers are adventurers who are always in pursuit of those.

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