Notes on Learning

Posted in Philosophy by Arasmus on August 11, 2008

It appears to me that there are two ways in which the brain can learn; a structured way and an unstructured way. Structured learning occurs as follows: 1. Each act of learning begins with learning a basic building-block. This ability must become fluent before the next block is added, otherwise the structure will become weak. 2. Once this basic building-block has been perfected, an additional but still basic building-block is added. 3. Once a sufficient number of building blocks have been added and learned, complications, exceptions and nuance are added. Unstructured learning, known colloquially as “picking things up” is less structured; 1. Information arrives in the student’s mind without meta-data or semantics. There is no indicator as to whether this information is a basic building-block or a complication, a rule or an exception. The brain must initially identify whether the information is structured or unstructured. Often the context provides this identification. If I am taking a class in say computer coding I anticipate the information will be structured. However, if I talk to a friend of mine about computer coding in a cafe, I anticipate that the knowledge will not be structured. 2. Once my brain determines that the knowledge is unstructured, it then decides the urgency with which it must determine a structure. If determining a structure is urgent, it will scan the incoming data and try and determine a pattern. It will then compare the putative structure against the incoming data and identify parts of the structure as either rules that are always true or rules that are occasionally true. Once a tentative structure has been created, it will then categorize non-structural data within the categories created by the structure. 3. If a structure is not urgent then the incoming data free-floats in the brain. It makes a connection with existing data in a much less intentional manner. It may be recalled later as a single piece of information or together with some other knowledge structure to which it has attached itself. Structured learning requires more energy but is more efficient because the knowledge parts are categorized, delivered in a pedagogical order and with a precise destination in mind. Non-structured learning has no plan, its architecture is organic and without pre-determined goal. What is the point of this observation? The higher energy cost of structured learning means that structured learning often fails to achieve its goal for want of the necessary energy. In other words people often quit. On the other hand unstructured learning requires much less energy because but often fails to produce fruit because insufficient depth of knowledge has been achieved over a given unit of time. This produces the trivia expert or the hobbyist. The interesting question is whether more things can be achieved through a hybrid of these two approaches? Part-structured and part unstructured. Thus an individual may leave flying classes (structured knowledge acquisition) and relax by watching a film about flying (non-structured knowledge acquisition). Such a hybrid model might reduce the rate of quitting from that observed in the structured learning environment but lead to more end results than that achieved by the mere knowledge browser. The quintessential expression of this hybrid idea is the educational game.


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