Last year I took an online course on Coursera called Learning How to Learn. Run by the University of California, this course provides learning techniques used by experts in diverse fields such as arts, sciences, sports and so on. While the course focused on training oneself to learn difficult subjects, I felt the relevance was universal. How many of us really know how to learn?
I think of learning as an attitude. Of learning something new. Or learning from the mundane, to make it better. Of asking questions. So the question really is about how to acquire this attitude.
The first thing that comes to mind is education. Not the kind which requires you to be seated down and passively inhale the dead books. When I was in school, I wasn’t good at the subjects which required you to learn formulas. But I did excel at those which involved understanding real-life applicability. For this reason, I was really bad at trigonometry but I did fairly well at mensuration. The formula wasn’t of prime importance; it was the logic that mattered. I did well at literature. I liked Biology, because I could validate the learnings in objects around me. But the chemical formulas on the books didn’t make sense.
I currently volunteer with an NGO and on most Saturdays I interact with kids who struggle with the same problem. Yes, there are books, but we try to take our lessons beyond them, into the real world. Implementation time for ‘How to Learn’ concepts. We try to create a feeling, sensing, and thinking environment. We asked a 3-year old to hold a rabbit in her hands to understand how furry it really is. We took a group of 10-year-olds for an excursion to Qutub Minar. When they went for a walk in its gardens, that’s when they realized how big the area was. They talked about why the monument was built. And they appreciated the architectural difference by looking at the minar (aka monument) closely.
Sometimes we work in the gardens inside the NGO campus. This is their way of paying back for the lessons. This in itself is a life lesson, that they need to work hard to get what they want. It makes them aware of the resources around them and how to utilize those. During one such session, we fetch fruit from an amla tree. When we weighed the collection, everyone was jaw-dropped. We had collected over 70 kgs! Another time we dug out the earth and planted tomato saplings. We tended to them through the season and watched them turn from green to ‘tomato’ red. And we wondered if the tomato was a fruit or a vegetable.
For two hours every week, we create an environment where asking questions is important. During those two hours, we learn how to learn.
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