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The Paradox of Deeper Learning: The Unlearning Curve

Stashed in: Interconnectedness!, Learn!, Connections

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Connection is everything.

The inability to connect a new piece of information with the world as we already know it--this is a classic problem of the unlearning that is required for deeper learning. Deep learning often involves a period of understanding less than we did at the start. Any student of physics knows this. The reason physics is hard to learn is not because it's so fundamentally complex. In fact, its principles are deceptively simple. The true challenge is that the idealized principles of textbook physics so often contradict what we "know" from a lifetime of real-world experiences. Learning physics is hard because what we think we already understand is so very hard to unlearn.

This idea is one I first encountered at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a Masters student. The film A Private Universe taught me to engage student's privately held ideas with respect, referring to them as preconceptions (prior knowledge), not merely misconceptions (wrong ideas). In my physics classroom, my revelation was that if I was going to teach for understanding, I would have to learn how to engage what my students actually believed--what they thought they already understood.

Deeper learning requires connecting old and new knowledge in initially unfamiliar ways. While knowledge is an indicator of what information we have access to, understanding indicates what connections we are able to make between one bit of knowledge and another. According to Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe, "Misunderstanding is not ignorance, therefore. It is the mapping of a working idea in a plausible but incorrect way in a new situation."

So this thing we do on PandaWhale -- the belief in the interconnectedness of all things -- is a key to deeper learning?

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