We wake up to morning news programs, catch the weather and traffic updates, and read the local newspaper.
Throughout the day, we surf the web, watch television, or listen to the radio. From a dozen sources, we are bombarded by bits of information making us feel like we are constantly learning new things. Unfortunately, this information gathering does not necessarily constitute permanent learning, giving many of us a false sense of learning.
Since the goal of teaching is permanent learning, learning must be defined. Learning is more than memorizing facts. Have you ever quickly memorized some facts or a Scripture verse for some event and then just as quickly forgotten what you had memorized? Much of what we memorize is forgotten because we have not really learned it.
Learning is more than hearing information. Reading a book or listening to a lecture does not constitute permanent learning. Even the clearest explanation and most careful demonstration alone will not cause permanent learning. Permanent or lasting learning takes place when outside information or knowledge becomes part of who we are and how we think.
So how do we learn?
Permanent or lasting learning is a process, not an event. In order to learn, we must first understand what we are hearing or reading. Lasting learning requires repeated exposures to the same material. We need time to think about the new information long enough to really understand it.
We must then find a way to make the new information fit with what we already know. Have I heard or seen this before? What can I do with it? Our brains not only receive information; they also process that information. If we discuss the information with others and ask questions about it, our brains can do a better job of learning. If we then do something with the information, learning is enhanced.
The Chinese proverb says: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” Students need to be personally engaged in the learning process. They must speak aloud, solve problems, and then apply what they have learned. The more actively students participate in the instruction, the greater their learning.
Here are a few simple ways to enhance learning:
1. Have the students restate the information in their own words. Hearing ourselves explaining the lesson to someone else gives us greater ownership of the information.
2. Have the students state the opposite or converse of an idea they have learned. This requires greater understanding and thinking than simply parroting back what was taught.
3. Ask the students to give examples of what has been taught from their own experiences. This will help personalize the lesson.
4. Ask students to look for connections between the lesson and other facts or ideas. Has the lesson made them think about other Bible stories or present-day events? This sense of connectivity is essential for learning.
5. Have the students foresee some of the consequences of the teaching in their lives or in the world. This leads to application of information.
The next time you teach a class or listen to a sermon, remember that the goal is permanent learning. Lasting learning is more than reading a book or listening to a lecture. Memorization does not ensure learning. Learning requires repeated and varied kinds of exposure to new material. The opportunity to discuss the information, to ask questions about it, to act on the lesson or do something with the information, and perhaps even teach someone else what has been taught, keeps students actively engaged in the learning process and leads to lasting learning.