What is Learning?: Aditi Narayan

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member spent a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Aditi Narayan

My father used to tell me that the best way to truly know whether one has learned something, is to teach said thing to someone else.

Hello Interwebbers!

Every teacher all over the world, whether they know it or not, strives to be a lifelong learner. However, when I think about it, from the moment we are born to the moment of our death we are all learning many things at once, whether we know it or not. As an active life-long learner myself, I strive to make every moment a learning opportunity, constantly asking questions such as: “Why do we have the problems in our country that we have?”, “What can I do to solve them?”, “Why is Lima a desert city despite the fact that the city borders the Pacific Ocean?”, and more. As I talk about learning and being a lifelong learner, I sometimes wonder: what is learning all about?

If I were to type “Learning” into any search engine, a definition of “Learning” would not be the first link that appears on the screen. There are so many different types of learning, from a psychological standpoint, that I wouldn’t know where to start. Dictionary.com says that ‘Learning’ is the “act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill…of systematic study in any field of scholarly application”. The only part of this definition that I slightly disagree with is the part about ‘scholarly application’. I disagree with this because we did not need scholarly application to learn how to do everyday things such as brush our teeth and tie our shoes. Yes, I agree that scholarly application is part of learning as students in school and university, and even as teachers since we are constantly looking for the most updated versions of information to teach our students. Academics is only one small part of the entirety that is learning.

My father used to tell me that the best way to truly know whether one has learned something, is to teach said thing to someone else. After returning from our trip to Peru, after all the field placements that i have done in schools so far, after reflecting so much on my education in the past, I think I have finally understood what he meant. Teaching and learning come hand-in-hand. One cannot occur without the other. One cannot learn without the ability to teach and one cannot teach without the ability to learn. I saw many examples of this in one of the science classes that I observed at the Fe y Alegria #2 school in Lima. The seventh grade students were talking about different ideas about cleaning, protecting, and saving their environment along with their slogans that they created. Each group had to draw out a poster with their highly-decorated slogans on them. Two people from each group, of about four people in each group, would stick their poster to the board and give a brief presentation about their slogan and what their message is. While they spoke, I listened to what they each had to say. Each of the speeches were quite similar, seeing as the content was about el medio ambiente (the environment). However, the students gave many different reasons as to why they, as peruvian citizens, should be taking care of the environment around them and in their country. Some said that reducing the pollution in the air will help them breathe as well as clean the water so that they can drink it freely. Some said that cleaning the litter from the streets and in their neighborhoods will uncover the beauty of their homes as well as preventing stray animals from eating small pieces of rubbish that are harmful for them. They all said that we are citizens of this world, that the world is our home. Just as we take care of our homes, we should be taking care of the Earth by keeping it clean and healthy to live in. They all learned about climate change and the effects that it has on the Earth.

They finished with a reflecting discussion on what they had learned over the course of the day, and how they can relate that to what they learned in the previous week and in their daily lives. According to Marc Clara’s article “What is a reflection? Looking for Charity in an Ambiguous Notion”, “…reflection refers to a real and extremely common psychological phenomenon that happens continuously in all spheres of life” (pg 262 or 2 of 11) Reflection is another important part of learning. This process helps us understand the meaning behind what we had learned. This ability to reflect on content understanding greatly helps students and teachers understand the content and, more importantly, how each topic connects with one another. From my experiences in the US and Peru, the class lessons are set up with three fundamental steps: (1) Review from the previous lesson; (2) Learning new information; (3) Reflection on new information and how the new information connects to old information.

The rest of the lesson plan set up has an infinite amount of possibilities. I saw that in every classroom I have ever been placed in. Another example from Peru was in La Inmaculada. During the week we were observing at the school, I observed a second grade English class where the unit was all about different types of sports or fun activities and the ability to say whether one likes or does not like said activities. Before the teacher sets the students off on their tasks of the day, the teacher asks them to tell her different activities or sports that they learned about in class. After that, she asks them whether they like or ‘don’t’ like those sports and they had to respond with “I do” or “I don’t”. (I used ‘don’t’ because the teacher only used ‘I don’t like…’, instead of ‘I do notlike…’). In the last five minutes of class, she has the students stop their activities and asks them the same questions, which the students are all too eager to answer. Something as simple as a small review of the day’s learning helps the students remember the content from class when they leave, and they are able to remember when they return to class.

There are many different types of education systems around the world, but more schools around the world are separating themselves from what Hooks calls the “banking system”. This is the old school, traditional version of education: The teacher lectures and the students blindly take in the information as they take notes. What does this say about the learning? Students ‘learn’ to pass the exams and move forward. Hooks describes in her article that challenging this “banking system” of education to educate for the freedom of learning more about the world around us, is the way to better the overall learning experience for the students and for the teacher.

At the end of all this, I can’t help but wonder if I will ever be able to answer the question, ‘What is Learning?’. There are so many different definitions of Learning and so many different types, that no one would know where to begin. From my time of learning, exploring, discovering, and philosophizing, I believe that learning is the lifelong process of acquiring knowledge/ a skill(s) through experience.

Until Next Time,

Aditi Narayan

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