Learning To Learn
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2013
While the debate has swung in favour of learning over the last 15 years or so, the need to revamp curricula and methodologies has never been more pressing. Technology-led developments have ensured that what is state of art yesterday is obsolete today. That,by definition has mandated the entire approach to pedagogy to shift from teaching tolearning in the 21st century knowledge economy. However the shift, while beingsubstantive, is also extremely subtle: its not just “learning” but “learning to learn” thathas assumed primal importance today.
Teaching cant keep pace with contemporary developments since teachers and theacademic infrastructure (including curriculum development, delivery, testing, certificationof teachers and students) are not nimble footed enough to map to changes in realtime.Therefore, it is now vital for pedagogy to focus on helping students master “how tolearn”. Instead of just encouraging students to learn, we now have to focus on helpingstudents master the survival imperative of “learning to learn.” When they master themethodology, tools and techniques of learning they are ready to learn on their owncontinuously; that is the only way they can remain current and relevant since contentdevelopment and delivery via technology is moving so fast these days. Static, classroomled teacher-centric delivery is giving way to dynamic, content-led student-centriclearning. The “teacher” is evolving into the “mentor” who points the way and helpsstudents access resources that clarify doubts and problems on their own.
This approach is especially important in post-graduate programs. These programs arethe last opportunity we have to make our vast multitudes of students employable. Students arrive at the portals of our PG programs after 15 years of teacher-led teachingregimes. Any incipient creativity or ability to think has long since been compromised byrote learning. In order to add value in the workspace these students must be able tothink for themselves, find and assemble resources, solve problems as they arise, actdecisively and create consistent results. Taken together, this is the skill-set that makes aperson employable throughout his or her career. This skill-set can be developed andretained with razor sharpness only by intense and continuous learning. Therefore, postgraduatestudents have to be weaned from the “taught” mindset and encouraged tomigrate into the “learning how to learn” mindset.
Students need to be made self-reliant vis-à-vis their ability to learn. This is inherentlytraumatic to them since they have grown up on “being taught.” In the light of myexperience I’m convinced that the pedagogy necessary to engineer this transformationis akin to the training of military special forces (like US Navy Seals or Indian NavyMarcos). This methodology envisages the rather frightening but hugely effectivecombination of intense pressure, heaviest of heavy workload, no negotiation on therules of engagement (translated: no extension of deadlines and no exemptions forpunctuality, participation and contribution) and the constant demand for high standardsof performance. This is the basic philosophy underlying the Self Reliant Learningmethodology. 1 Briefly described, the Self Reliant Learning Methodology is all aboutparticipants being made responsible for learning together in groups without teacherintervention, demonstrating their learnings through individual and group presentationsand being quizzed by other students. The foundation of this methodology is to applyexponential pressure in an entirely positive, non-threatening and encouragingenvironment. Typically, the SRL program is run for 5 days with about 15 articles from world-class journals being the focal points. These articles are drawn from diversesubjects; participants study the material and work on their presentations in groupsthroughout the night. The focus is not merely the content of the articles. Rather, it is theability to understand concepts, communicate that understanding, ability to work ingroups, present in public, think innovatively, help and lead teammates and concentrateunder intense time pressure, fatigue and sleep deprivation. The combination of thesefactors are highly potent in building the ability to cope, learn and deliver under extremepressure. All these abilities build tremendous self confidence in the participant thathe/she can withstand and overcome the most challenging personal circumstances.Participants learn how to be self-reliant in the crucible of pressure during this program! As a result, they develop confidence in their own ability to learn throughout their lives.
Income is crucially linked to adding value; adding value is in turn linked with stayingcurrent with knowledge, skills and attitudes in an environment in which obsolescence is aconstant danger. Learning to learn is therefore a survival imperative!
- By V.K. Madhav Mohan