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Five ‘R’ s for effective learning

By G. Balasubramanian

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young,” said Henry Ford. Learning is often misconstrued as an activity which is related to an institutional delivery and an engagement of a learner to a process for achieving a pre-conceived goal or target. On the contrary, learning is a life-time process that happens continuously right from the pre-natal stage to the last breath. Recent research on the neuro-cognitive processes have related learning to the establishment of a neural connect. Further to the investigations of Kandel, who was awarded the Nobel prize for his remarkable observations and explanations on how learning happens in the brain, several theories of cognitive sciences and pedagogical approaches to understand learning have been set aside.

For an average person, learning is linked to the process of reading a book related to an idea, concept, philosophy or several such things, and trying to understand them; and the ability to explain the same in a suitable manner as and when the need arises. The idea of reading a book is just one facet of the process of learning, most fundamental. Research do indicate that neither seeing, nor reading necessarily leads to learning; even if it occupies memory, it is just for a brief period. Unfortunately, this idea of reading, though a necessity, has influenced the modern-day educators and learners who focus their processes to preparing a learner to an examination or to a process of certification. This has deprived the joy of learning to a considerable extent, leave alone the several other vital nutrients to both effective learning and deep learning.

Though there could be several approaches and explanations that would explain learning, as an educator I believe the following five ‘R’s are important for a reasonable complete process of learning – Reading, Reflecting, Relating, Researching and Recording.

“Reading maketh a full man.” said Sir Francis Bacon. Reading can be for a purpose or pleasure, serious or light, with a passion or for a fashion. An effective process of reading calls for an enthusiastic engagement with the subject of study. It brings a cooperation between the reader and the author, or between the reader and the subject. It could trigger several emotions including empathy, concern, pity, anger or even hate. An enthusiastic engagement with a subject of study is an intellectual delight that provides energy and makes life purposeful and worthy. John Ruskin has dealt with the process of reading a book extensively in his book “sesame and lilies” Reading a worthy book serves the purpose of interacting with several authors at one place. Says George R R Martin, the American Novelist “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies .“ Currently, many take the process of reading as a grass-hopping exercise. At the institutional level, it appears important to stress among the learners the glory of an effective reading.

Any effective reading must lead the process of reflection. “There is one art of which people should be masters – the art of reflection” says Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Gathering of information that stays and stagnates is of no use to anyone. Reflection is a process where the reader engages the author with a conversation, may be at his mental platform. Reflection opens an entire universe of thought architectures related to the subject of study. It helps to review, validate, examine and underscore value points of the article of study. It calls for arguments within both logical and otherwise. “Reflective thinking turns experience into insight” says John C. Maxwell. Reflection helps to imbibe the spirit of the author and dwell in their intellectual umbrella for breathing a distinct perspective. Reflection also helps to disagree, deny or question the foundations on which the concepts have been put across. Reflection helps in negotiating our own ideas about what is said or perceived.

Any idea, concept or a viewpoint can be understood or appreciated only when one can relate the same to situations, events, contexts or other parameters of knowledge. Any isolated idea may have a great commendation but the inability to relate the same to real time situations, dynamics of knowledge puts it in poor light. The ability to relate the learning to a larger universe of operation, examining its inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary value will enhance its rating and utility. A learner should engage into the process of reflection and relating any learned input is vital for expansion of knowledge and examining the knowledge for its depth. Ability to relate knowledge to a wider spectrum helps in celebration of knowledge for its full power. It is said “Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.”

In any learning situation, accepting the information or knowledge on its face value would show the meekness of our deliberations with knowledge. It is important any piece of data, information, knowledge should trigger us for further research to examine the unfathomed oceans of knowledge. It would be necessary to evaluate the information in the context of its contemporary views, experiments, hypotheses and belief systems. Researching the learning would open gateways for further learning, creativity, innovation and enterprise. It is important to develop a researching mind in every learner from the formative stages which would help both the individual and the society to be more authentic, more dependable. It must be made clear to an inspired researcher that researching is not simple googling. “Research is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought” says Albert Szent-Györgyi

Recording facilitates organization of our thought architecture in a systematic manner. Recording indicates our flow of thoughts and our intellectual engagement with the learning dynamics in a progressive manner. It becomes an authentic appreciation of our pursuit of knowledge in a truthful manner without any external validation or intervention. Recording provides an opportunity to open our own perceptions about the subject of study to further evaluation and research. It is evidence of our truthfulness to the course of learning we have pursued. Recording of our learning dynamics is an expression or communication of our soul’s longing in a given field of activity. Small or big, records of our learning progression would help us to navigate both smoothly and effectively towards a goal set or even an interest that is undefined.