If learning means that you understand something new, it will only come as a result of the learner actively participating in the process of “coming to understand”.
What the above means is that learning is very different from remembering. This is a common theme in what I write about in this space. That’s because remembering is just that, it’s simply recall. We can all remember things, but if those things are not connected to what we previously understand then we’re not building knowledge because we’re not attaching understanding to what we’re “remembering”.
In the process of dealing with new information the learner has to participate, ideally in two forms. The first is mentally participating, which means considering the new information and seeing how it relates to what is already known. It means what I mentioned in the last post – “turning things over” in your mind, etc. It means not just “receiving” information and trying to retain it in a disconnected way. Isolated facts and data is not knowledge. The process of integrating the new information into your self or being requires this active role, which contributes greatly to building understanding. The other form of participation is some form of doing or discovery. When the learner participates in a physically active way, not just mentally/cognitively, they are engaging their body in the process, which has been shown to be effective.
It is only this kind of experience that will create deep understanding, and it is deep understanding that allows creativity to take place. Only when you really “get” something are you in a position to do something with it. Only when you truly understand how it operates and what the nuances are can you think about how to reconfigure it, adapt it, make something innovative out of it. No one ever created or invented something without really understanding what they were dealing with, it’s simply not possible.
So our schools need to be incubators of creativity, which means that they need to operate in a way that not only encourages students to function as active participants in the learning process but requires it by it’s very structure. This will mean removing the teacher from the front of the room as a “talking head” who is “teaching”. This form of teaching is by its very nature counter to the active participant model.
There is no debate about what makes meaning, what leads to deep understanding. Neurologists and developmental psychologists know what it takes. We need to break the disconnect between what is known and understood there and what passes for education in traditional schools today.