As someone who has taught at high schools, colleges and through business training programs, what I’ve discovered is that the most effective learning comes through discovery. In order to fully understand this point, let’s explore the more common learning approaches.
During my youth, education was focused on rote learning. We memorized the map, were expected to recall dates and events in history, learned math by repeating multiplication tables until we could do it in our sleep.
Based on my experience, this type of learning created long-term memory when the information was used frequently. Absent frequent use, much of what I memorized has been lost forever.
Today, the emphasis on test scores often results in students being taught how to perform well on mandated tests. I’ll admit that during my college years, I studied just enough to score a reasonable grade in courses that held little interest for me…with the same long-term memory result of rote learning.
In today’s world, with ready access to information, I’d be more inclined to test a student’s ability to find the answer than to have immediate recall of the answer. The fact that I can recall an answer doesn’t mean that I’ve learned anything.
As an instructor I’ve found that when I enable my students to discover the answer on their own, their long-term memory of what they learned increases exponentially. The reasons for this result are:
- When you discover something on your own it elicits an emotional reaction and emotions create long-term memory.
- What you discover is validated with your experiences. This validation occurs when you make the connection between your discovery and prior experiences. Connecting your discovery with prior experiences creates long-term memory.
- We tend to share what we discover with others which further enhances our memory of what we discovered. The act of sharing further clarifies the discovery in our minds.
I can’t begin to count the number of times that a discovery I made from one reading resulted in decades-long memory. These were life-changing, life-enhancing memories, many of which have made their way into these blog posts. This combination of quick learning and long-term memory has never occurred for me with the other two approaches to learning.
Why is this important for you?
If you want to be impactful in what you’re doing, don’t tell others what they “need to know.” Instead, use questions that enable them to discover the answer on their own. They’ll not only quickly embrace their discovery, they’ll act upon it quickly as well.
I recently had a conversation with a young man who was using conditional language like “try” and “hope.” When I asked him what the famous Yoda line was, he responded “Do or no do, there is no try.” Within the next 15 minutes of our conversation he twice began to use the words try and hope, caught himself, and changed his language. That’s the power of discovery.
For our kids
Instead of telling kids what works and what doesn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong, what will happen and how that differs from what they anticipate, ask them questions that enable them to discover the answers on their own. They’ll not only remember what they discover well into the future, they’ll act on their discovery almost immediately.
If you’re like me, it’s likely that you’re recalling times that you went against your parents’ advice only to find out how right they were. We can’t prevent our kids from learning lessons the hard way (nor should we), but we can minimize their pain by enabling them to discover answers on their own prior to taking action. It’s a gift that’ll serve them well throughout their lives.
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