Psychology of Learning

Tom Stafford—co-author of Mind Hacks—has written a series of posts on what psychologists know about learning. For anyone interested in education and personal development, these provide an interesting introduction to a few topics of note.

Learning Makes Itself Invisible

Once you have learnt something you see the world differently. Not only can you appreciate or do something that you couldn’t appreciate or do before, but the way you saw the world before is now lost to you. This works for the small things as well as the big picture. If you learn the meaning of a new word, you won’t be able to ignore it like you did previously. If you learn how to make a cup of out of clay you won’t ever be able to see cups like you used to before.

The premise of the article (and especially the example given) puts me in mind of the previously mentioned phenomenon of sine wave speech.

Learning Should Be Fun

Rather than fun being a relief from learning, or a distraction from it, for most of our history, before school, learning had to be its own motivation. Brains that learnt well had more offspring, and so learning evolved to be rewarding.

In lots of teaching situations we focus on the right and wrong answers to things, which is a venerable paradigm for learning, but not the only one. There is a less structured, curiosity-driven, paradigm which focusses not on what is absolutely right or wrong, but instead on what is surprising. A problem with rights and wrongs is that, for some people, the pressure of being correct gets in the way of experiencing what actually is.

The Straight Dope on Learning Styles

This is where we hit problems. Are learners either primarily visual, auditory, kinesthetic (as claimed in NLP)? Or are they primarily analytic, creative or pragmatic (as proposed by Robert Sternberg). Is the world made of Convergers, Divergers, Assimilators and Accomodators? Maybe instead we should use the Myers-Briggs categories of Sensers, Intuitors, Thinkers and Feelers?

Faced with these possibilities an academic psychologist has a standard set of questions they would like answered: can you really divide people up into a particular set of categories?