Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Do and I Understand

Curiosity is an inherent human nature. We want to learn about the world around us. And we have been doing so since the day we were born. When we are curious, we actively engage with the world around us and in that process learn about it. Unfortunately, our education system undermines this basic instinct of human beings. It treats students as passive learners or empty vessels. And the job of the instructors is to “fill students’ minds” with knowledge. Classrooms are treated as places to transfer information where the instructors act as the “sea of knowledge” who aim to transfer their knowledge to the students.

However, this system of knowledge transfer does not lead to students’ learning. Yes, the students do get some information in this process but they do not necessarily understand it. And they forget it after some time. Students are not empty vessels which can be filled with knowledge. They have a mind of their own. They think and construct knowledge out of what they hear, see and experience. And they learn in this process of knowledge construction.

If we want students to construct their own understanding, the only way to do that is to engage them in the process of learning instead of delivering content to them. And the way we can engage students in the learning process is by involving them in activities which lead to their learning. When students are engaged, they can learn the most difficult and intricate topics. This is because while they are engaged, they try to connect the new information to their long-term memory. This, in turn, leads to their understanding of the topic they are trying to learn. As the author James Paul Gee notes in his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, kids tend to learn even the most complicated of video games because they are deeply engaged in the process of learning it. There are multiple instructional strategies which can be used to involve students in the learning process. These include, but are not limited to, project-based learning, problem-based learning, case-based teaching, discovery learning, collaborative learning, co-operative learning and peer-teaching.

An old proverb suggests, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” If we want students to understand the content, we need to engage them in doing activities instead of making them hear lectures from the instructors.


  1. Hi Ashish, thanks for bringing the issue of engagement of the students. I agree with you that, as human beings we are all striving for growth and we are all curious. This education system should have been "doing" something to the minds of the students, so that they lose their interest in class content. I feel like this may be happening because education is becoming a purpose, rather than a tool. A purpose, that is not meaningful at all. When the students feel like what is "covered" in class, will be really meaningful for them, they naturally get engaged... I think the issue of meaning is particularly related to engagement.. Best, yesim

  2. Hey,

    Shameless plug. You should check out phenomenology which is the study of objects and designs in the context of the world around us. It is often used in the process of making that architecture uses the design laboratory for.

    The process of making is "I do and I understand". The key aspect that comes from this is that learning is done together and not in a vacuum alone. That is what video games have to offer in learning, the ability to have a visual representation of working and playing together.

  3. I really liked that old proverb at the end. We should definitely start shifting towards making the student more interested and engaged, towards making him do something that he likes instead doing something that he's obliged to do. Rabih.