Thursday, January 24, 2019

Yet More Contrast Between Childlike and Adult Learning

I have some thoughts on learning.

Since nobody clicks the links (Damned kids today! Back in the 90's, we clicked every link!), here. Let me paste in the background for you:

Learn Like a Kid
If you try to teach adults to wiggle their ears, they'll try once or twice to engage those muscles, fail, shrug, and give up. If it's absolutely critical that they learn the skill, they'll buy a book or hire a coach, and set aside time for diligent, grinding practice.

If you try to teach kids to wiggle their ears, they return to it again and again at odd moments, playfully experimenting until they finally develop the knack.

That's why kids learn easily and adults don't.

The trick to learning is to do it playfully and immersively, like a child (rather than the way schools have taught you to learn).

Why People Don't Learn
Learning requires feeling dumb for a while. And that's why people don't learn.

Everyone tasked with teaching anything to adults has ample experience with students feeling anxious and embarrassed for not instantly and perfectly grasping some point or other. It's just not about getting something wrong. It's about the unwillingness to acknowledge or display any deficit at all.

People are accustomed to masking their ignorance and other flaws, but learning requires dropping the mask. And that is horribly, horribly upsetting for most people. So they flail to show both themselves and their teachers that they hardly needed instruction in the first place. Believe it or not, this is incredibly common; the rule rather than the exception. Exactly at the moment when receptive curiosity would serve them best, they're trying to prove how very clever they are.

Children don't do this. Lacking a firm self-image, they're perfectly fine serving as empty cups. That's one reason they learn so easily, while adults are famously incapable of doing so past a certain age. It's not a cognitive problem, it's an emotional one. Learning requires feeling dumb for a minute, and that's just a deal-killer.

If you teach adults, the thing you'll hear again and again is "I knew that". Reassembling their dignity after being forced to bear the prospect that they're missing something, adult students will practically sneer if you tell them something even vaguely familiar. "I knew that!"

As the extreme opposite style of learner (my inner nine-year-old never having ceded control), I have no "I knew that" reflex whatsoever. This probably explains my remarkably high tolerance for sitting through explanations (e.g. books, articles, documentaries, etc) of topics where I'm already expert...even when they offer nothing new.

Feeling no impulse to turn away, I find retread perfectly pleasant (so long as there’s nothing wrong/dumb in the explanation, which would drive me crazy). I might tell myself that I’m sitting through it on the chance of some errant chunk of new info I can use. But the truth is, I’d stick around even if no such chunks were forthcoming.

It's partially that my brain enjoys the micro stimulation of hearing familiar things expressed with words and voices other than my own. It's soothing nano stimulation; like cognitive velvet. Another explanation is that having been weaned on 1960's TV, with no remote control and just four crap-tastic stations to choose from, I'm thoroughly trained in the uncritical acceptance of useless sensory input.

But mostly it's that I'm not eager to assemble my dignity; my veneer of wholeness. I'm always learning, because I’m not a complete person infrequently applying patches but a deeply curious/ignorant person perpetually in dynamic formation. I'm not arrived, like some middle-aged dude. I'm becoming, like a 9-year-old. Having never proudly put self-composition behind me, I have nothing at stake in my in-progress condition. 

We're not supposed to be able to learn once we reach our 30s, but I seem to be accelerating. I started this Slog at the crusty age of 46, and scant little of it could have been produced by my 36-year-old self. All credit goes to childlike learning - to treating it all like play and being satisfied with gathering sloppy, scattershot comprehension and filling in details later.

But at the same time I've grown comically poor at adult-style learning. I’m a complete blockhead with any sort of online learning course or textbook. When I find myself run through a tutorial gauntlet of sequential steps and procedures, I morph into a dimly obtuse 56-year-old, wiping my glasses and frowning gravely. I was never very good at such learning as a kid (my school grades were good-not-great), but that door's nearly shut for me now.

If that were the only way I could learn....yeesh. It'd be too awful to contemplate.

1 comment:

Anonymous coward said...

People also fail to learn because we are cognitive misers. Think about all the ridiculous conspiracy theories and fake news that spreads like the plague and sticks around. Why does it spread so fast and persist so long? Because humans are designed to live in the jungle. Homo Sapiens originated from Africa and if a person who saw a tiger and ran immediately had an evolutionary advantage over somebody who pondered, gee is that really a tiger, is it dangerous, should I run, etc.

This is why climate change denial on the right and anti-vaxxing on the left is so rampant.

"Our brains don’t let piddling little facts get in the way of a good story, allowing lies to infect the mind with surprising ease." By David Robson 24 March 2016

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