How do we learn?
I spent four years studying the answer to this question in a Bachelor of Education, back when I thought I would be a primary school teacher. Unfortunately, many of the models and theories – the technical stuff – that I studied left me in the years since. But there are a lot of lessons that have stayed with me from my own experiences out on placements. For example, I once worked with a 12 year old girl who struggled with maths. For this student, a particular challenge for her were times tables, which are essential for keeping up with year six topics like long division.
In my own childhood, my mum used to play the most annoying CD you can imagine. ‘Professor Playtime’s Musical Times tables’. Thanks to modern technology, you can find it on YouTube with a quick search (Content Warning: extreme earworms)
My 12 year old self was quite good at maths and found it babyish, repetitive, irritating and pointless.
Fast forward 10 ish years, and I was spending afternoons with my student playing traditional games like snap or memory, trying to improve her recall of times tables. Nothing seemed to make a difference and we were both becoming frustrated. On a whim I dug out that old CD and lent it to her. What happened the following week will stick with me forever.
“Miss B, I know my tables now.”
“Oh?” *complete scepticism*
“Yeah the CD was really useful. My mum said to say thank you.”
I can’t remember which game we played that day. To my absolute astonishment, she knew every single multiplication fact. All of them. Sometimes she had to sing them under her breath, but she could do them. And she had loved the CD (also astonishing).
I feel like this story really demonstrates the way that learning is not always predictable and differs so much from person to person. There is no magic answer to ‘how do we learn?’, and you don’t need a four-year degree to realise that. An easier, though no less complex question is: ‘how do I learn?’ This question has become increasingly important for self-directed learners with the rise and rise of digital media.
The introduction of digital media has made a huge difference to learning and teaching. Before it, the paths to self-education were limited to reading books in the local library, or perhaps consulting experts and institutions in the community. The internet has not only exploded the number of topics we have access to, but also offers information delivered in many formats. It’s really a choose your own learning style. Watch it on You tube, listen on a Podcast, ask an expert in a chat room or even learn by doing (there’s most likely an app for that). However you like to learn, the internet can help you.