Learning about learning when you learn…?!

October 28, 2010


Thinking let the sparks flies

Do you think about thinking?

Oh boy, that sound confusing doesn’t it… Let me explain. One of the factors that some say distinguishes us human from the other animals in the animal kingdom is our ability to have meta-cognition.  Wow, big word, what’s that? It refers to a higher level of cognition, i.e. being able to think about your thinking.  As teachers/lecturers/professors we should stimulate our students to do this; not only to think about what they’ve learned directly, but also what they learned from the process of learning.

If you are a student, do YOU think about that? Or are you so worried about passing the exam that afterwards you hardly can remember a thing?  Thinking about your learning experience can help you with your next learning experience. So if you fail (or do badly) in something, should it not tell you something, not only about the material, but also how you approached the material?

If you are on the lecturing side, do YOU think about helping your students to do that? Or are you just worried about your little field of specialization? I actually think many people on the lecturing side does, but sadly some probably don’t.  Thinking about this reminded me of the very famous video of Randy Pausch‘s last lecture.  He uses the term “mind fake” to send a message behind a message… Should we not be thinking more about our “mind fakes”?

If you have experience mind fakes from your parents, your mentors, whoever, please share that with everybody in the comments.

Note: If you’re not one of the more than 12 million people who already watched this on YouTube, plan to. It is an hour and a quarter, but you will not regret making the time — if this doesn’t make you think, nothing probably will…

“On September 18, 2007, Carnegie Mellon professor and alumnus Randy Pausch delivered a one-of-a-kind last lecture that made the world stop and pay attention.” (CMU) I think you should also pay attention. Randy died July 25, 2008, at the age of 47, but his legacy lives… forever.

The (strange) economics of learning

February 19, 2010

The economists tell me economy is really the study of scarcity…  This seems like a rather acceptable definition to me as in a financial economy I certainly feel the scarcity… of finances this is. However others have defined economies with different units of commerce.  For example, Davenport and Beck defined an economy in terms of attention – you have limited attention to “share”, so that is indeed a scarce commodity.  Maybe something on what they say in more detail in a later post. However, since I’ve been in academia I have been thinking about “learning” – afterall, this is largely what is supposed to happen at universities, whether through teaching or research.

So I have been wondering whether the economic principles can apply to learning.  It is indeed a need for knowledge that drives people to universities… or am I missing something?  Learning is a relatively time-consuming exercise, so to argue that there is a scarcity could perhaps work? Although there is no shortage of knowledge, and we won’t easily run out of it, the unit of commerce is not the knowledge, but our “acquisition” of it. Maybe the unit of commerce is “learning opportunities”. Students (learners) pay some money to be afforded the opportunity to learn something.

BUT, maybe the same principles afterall does not apply!? If a learner were to buy, say a new cellular telephone and certain numbers does not appear on the keypad they would surely complain… However, if the unit of commerce is “learning opportunities” and I were to have a short lecture (say only 30 minutes rather than the schedules 90 minutes) the students mostly go “Yeah !!!! Bonus…! 🙂 ”

I can only conclude that learning seem to adhere to a very strange economy indeed.