What is your philosophy of learning?
As we begin another semester of learning, understanding, and application – what is your philosophy of learning that scratches the underbelly of your academic journey this semester?
My philosophy of learning, which I share with my academic sojourners on the first day of class, is:
—- let us expand our horizons of understanding, share our knowledge, ask thought-provoking questions, and strive to make a difference in the world. I must enlighten and convince others by the carefulness of my reasoning, the soundness of my decisions, the proper disposition of my heart, and the impact on my behavior in promoting social justice issues. “I must become the change I want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
— In addition, I like quotations – how I would love to teach a course based solely on quotations; they are like laser beams which penetrate to the heart of our thirst for learning and our search for understanding – in essence, quotations are the ultimate pursuit of the truth.
Here are some of my favorite quotations:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
“A teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” Gahlil Gibran
“To understand truth one must have a very sharp, precise, clear mind; not a cunning mind, but a mind that is capable of looking without any distortion, a mind innocent and vulnerable. Only such a mind can see what truth is. Nor can a mind that is filled with knowledge perceive what truth is; only a mind that is completely capable of learning can do that. Learning is not the accumulation of knowledge. Learning is movement from moment to moment.” – J. Krishnamurti
“Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically – without learning how, or without practicing.” – Alfred Mander
“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” – Socrates
“Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.” Confucius
“Education is not filling of a pail. It is the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
“We need to teach students how to think rather than what to think” –Margaret Mead
“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” – Francis Bacon
In addition, I include the following in my syllabus:
By Maryellen Weimer, PhD
I’ve seen lots of lists that identify the characteristics of good teachers. They’re great reminders of what we should aspire to be as teachers. I haven’t seen many corresponding lists that identify the characteristics of good learners. I decided to put one together and invite your input. This could be a list for our students or anybody who aspires to learn well.
- Good learners are curious – They wonder about all sorts of things, often about things way beyond their areas of expertise. They love the discovery part of learning. Finding out about something they didn’t know satisfies them for the moment, but their curiosity is addictive.
- Good learners pursue understanding diligently – A few things may come easily to learners but most knowledge arrives after effort, and good learners are willing to put in the time. They search out information—sometimes aspiring to find out everything that is known about something. They read, analyze, and evaluate the information they’ve found. They talk with others, read more, study more, and carry around what they don’t understand; thinking about it before they go to sleep, at the gym, on the way to work, and sometimes when they should be listening to others. Good learners are persistent. They don’t give up easily.
- Good learners recognize that a lot of learning isn’t fun – That doesn’t change how much they love learning. When understanding finally comes, when they get it, when all the pieces fit together, that is one special thrill. But the journey to understanding generally isn’t all that exciting. Some learning tasks require boring repetition; others a mind-numbing attention to detail; still others periods of intense mental focus. Backs hurt, bottoms get tired, the clutter on the desk expands, the coffee tastes stale—no, most learning isn’t fun.
- Failure frightens good learners, but they know it’s beneficial – It’s a part of learning that offers special opportunities that aren’t there when success comes quickly and without failure. In the presence of repeated failure and seeming futility, good learners carry on, confident that they’ll figure it out. When faced with a motor that resists repair, my live-in mechanic announces he has yet to meet a motor that can’t be fixed. Sometimes it ends up looking like a grudge match, man against the machine, with the man undeterred by how many different fixes don’t work. He’s frustrated but determined to find the one that will, all the while learning from those that don’t.
- Good learners make knowledge their own – This is about making the new knowledge fit with what the learner already knows, not making it mean whatever the learner wants. Good learners change their knowledge structures in order to accommodate what they are learning. They use the new knowledge to tear down what’s poorly constructed, to finish what’s only partially built, and to create new additions. In the process, they build a bigger and better knowledge structure. It’s not enough to just take in new knowledge. It has to make sense, to connect in meaningful ways with what the learner already knows.
- Good learners never run out of questions – There’s always more to know. Good learners are never satisfied with how much they know about anything. They are pulled around by questions—the ones they still can’t answer, or can only answer part way, or the ones without very good answers. Those questions follow them around like day follows night with the answer bringing daylight but the next question revealing the darkness.
- Good learners share what they’ve learned – Knowledge is inert. Unless it’s passed on, knowledge is lost. Good learners are teachers committed to sharing with others what they’ve learned. They write about it, and talk about it. Good learners can explain what they know in ways that make sense to others. They aren’t trapped by specialized language. They can translate, paraphrase, and find examples that make what they know meaningful to other learners. They are connected to the knowledge passed on to them and committed to leaving what they’ve learned with others.