Tuesday, 8 March 2016

"Active learning"

she told me. 
Middle Cat and I stopped to get a drink in the hospital canteen yesterday. (Neither of us had eaten lunch.)
Inevitably Middle Cat saw someone she knew and they started to chat. Her friend is doing a doctorate as a mature age student. 
What, I wanted to know, was her topic?
It turns out she is doing it on "active learning" or, more precisely, how using the internet affects the way a student learns. We were soon discussing this. It's a topic which interests me - and the Senior Cat.
The Senior Cat came to the internet late in life, very late. He was given an i-pad for his 90th birthday. He has managed to learn to use it to search for information and never ceases to be amazed by "what you can find on there". 
But, talking with Middle Cat's friend, my feelings about the way the Senior Cat uses the internet were reinforced. He doesn't use it the way many young people would seem to use it to search for information. 
The Senior Cat is not satisfied with just one source of information. He will look at not just one site but many sites. He looks to see not just what the information is but where it has come from. Is the source likely to be reliable? 
And, just as importantly, the Senior Cat will ask himself - or has done - the other important question, "Do I need to know more?"
It's a different approach to learning. 
Middle Cat's friend was talking about young people looking for information on the internet, reading a small amount from a single site, and then saying, "Now, I know that."
They don't know it. They may know something but they don't necessarily know enough or understand what they have read. It is rather like suggesting that someone is now an expert in theoretical physics because they have read Stephen Hawking's "A brief  history of time".  Even if I had understood everything I read it would not have made me an expert in theoretical physics. 
But the internet is there. People use it. They use it to "find out things". Schools here expect students in the upper reaches of the primary and into the secondary school to own a device which allows them to access the internet. More and more teaching is being done this way. There are schools which no longer have libraries.
It is not doing students any favours. Their learning is superficial. I doubt their capacity to memorise is as good.
Years ago when I was a mature age student in law school I wrote a paper about how to write an examination summary - the notes a law student was permitted to take into the exam room. 
The best students wrote concise, careful summaries. Learning how to write one was an essential part of  being a really good law student. It still is - although the techniques for doing it now that the internet is there would be slightly different. But students still need to know their cases and not just know them but understand them. The internet cannot do that for them. If I had paid the subscription to access a set of law reports. I could read the cases. They would not mean a great deal unless I understood the principles being applied. I could not apply them to a set of facts.
The internet has limits. We still need active learning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I feel sorry for today's toddlers ... only the lucky ones will learn to read well enough for pleasure, and many will have no hope of proper study of any subject other than the footy results. Research skills are going to be hard to find too.