Absorbing or Doing.

The 12th key to learning. 

What is key in learning? This is the twelfth of a number of keys that are meant to bring understanding about what learning is and how leaning can be improved by understanding the message of those keys. This key is about how we learn by doing. This key is about how 'hands on' creates interest, makes meaningful, elaborates, and builds on other information in the mind to make learning better and easier.

What do we mean by hands on learning? 

Hands on is actively examining the universe through trial and error, or through physically testing theoretical hypotheses. In this sense, all human beings are scientists exploring the universe. The first thing a child does in learning is pick up and manipulate objects. It is both a means of running experiments to assess theories, and also through iteration, is the means by which children can find the limits within which theories can function. Hands on is when we examine the universe personally. The following appeared in 'Wired' from Will Wright the man behind the Sims series of computer games:

"Just watch a kid with a new video game. The last thing they do is read the manual. Instead, they pick up the controller and start bashing the buttons to see what happens. This isn't a random process; it's the essence of scientific method... It's a rapid cycle of hypothesis, experiment and analysis. And it's a fundamentally different take on problem-solving than the linear, read-the-manual first approach of their parents."

Doing as natural learning. 

This learning by doing, as described above, is much more than a description of a specific type of learning. It is a description of how normal or natural learning takes place. This is how babies learn. Watch one and see. It is how young children have always approached learning unless adults intervene and insist that they consult books first. It is how people in primitive tribes learn. And as Will Wright explains it is how a scientist must learn. First a scientist forms an hypothesis, then he tests the hypothesis by doing something, then he analyses what happens. If expectation failure occurs then the scientist forms a new hypothesis and the process begins again. This type of learning is not only the most efficient, it is the most natural. Learning by reading books or listening to lectures is not only less efficient, but also less natural. Learning by doing embeds the thing learned in a matrix of connections to all the other things that we know. The information is elaborated and fused into our models of reality. Rather than just adding to what we know, it causes a fundamental restructuring of what we know. All this allows it to be recalled easily as opposed to information heard, or read, or even viewed. Thus this type of learning is far more efficient. This learning by doing is actually the learning of a set of skills. These skills are both physical skills and mental skills.        

Knowledge heritage. 

On the other hand humanity has accumulated over time a vast quantity of information (potential knowledge) which is our heritage. If we had to learn everything by 'hands on' examining the universe we would in fact end up learning very little of the vast accumulated knowledge that is our heritage. This is because we would be discovering everything all over again. It is often possible to take much of this heritage into our minds whole. When we listen to a lecture or read a book we are attempting to swallow this knowledge whole, without testing it personally our selves. If the information fits with what we already know we can simply assimilate the knowledge into our minds. Or if it does not fit we accommodate it into our minds. That is to say we change information already in our minds so the new information will fit. This is why learning from books and lectures is often so difficult. Often the information simply does not fit with what we know, and we are being asked to restructure our minds without testing that information in the real world. When this happens, we can end up just remembering data for a short period of time, sometimes only long enough to pass an exam, without having any understanding of its application in the real world. 

Hands on or heritage. 

Although it is less efficient learning has to be accomplished mostly as part of accommodating and assimilating our knowledge heritage. However, at the same time the presentation of such knowledge tends to be very abstract, especially as it is presented in the 'tell and test' form for learning in schools. What students need is practical real world examples to ground these abstractions. Just how much of this concreteness is needed varies greatly with both age and learning experience. However, without some 'hands on' practical concrete examples to give it some connection with reality, knowledge can become completely obscure. It simply slips out of touch with reality and thus becomes difficult to learn, to understand, and to be almost impossible to recall. This is especially so after a reasonable length of time, or after it has been tested in an exam. When students exclaim with humor that, as they have passed their exam they can forget all this stuff, it seems so true as not to be funny at all.


The need for concrete invariants in young children. 

When children are young, from when they are born till they are about 18, they are highly motivated by one form of the need to know. This is actually the need to build a model of reality or draw a map of reality. This model, or map, reflects reality and allows us to make the world predictable. This is what Karl Popper refers to as the need for universal invariants. It is, what is, and will always be, a mirror of a stable and orderly universe. It takes the form of a web or a myriad of interlacing conjectures about reality.

The younger a child is, the more random and like guesswork these conjectures are, and the more prone they are to being wrong. Piaget and others have shown us the many misconceptions children have about the world. Also they have shown how the younger a child is, the more invalid these conjectures are. For instance children often use words in a way that indicates they do not really understand the word's meaning. For example, to an infant, a cow may mean any large animal. Or infants cannot comprehend such ideas as conservation of matter and will tend to think the amount of matter has changed if its shape has changed.

The chaos of anomalies in a model of reality.

Maria Montessori went on to show how children went through a stage where they become extremely frustrated with their inability to make the world predictable. She showed they have a desperate need for their world to be consistent. She gives many examples of what are clearly an inability to deal with common conjectures that are invalid and which have been shown to be invalid by events. For instance, children will often become panicked if the favorite toy is not where they normally find it. This conjecture appears to be common to all children and unfortunately incorrect. The conjecture put simply is that everything has its place and will always be found in that place.

It is actually a very logical conclusion, and one which is seemingly correct for most objects in a child's world. Walls, ceilings, furniture, cupboards, houses, roads, footpaths, trees etc. are in fact always in the same place and will always be found there. The child's understanding of reality is consistent when these things are where they expect to find them, but seemingly inconsistent when they are out of place. Of course all those objects could be moved but normally are not. It matters not. It is logical from the point of view of the child but it is nevertheless wrong.

What Maria Montessori noticed was that when objects are moved or when they are not found where the child expects, the child can panic be disturbed or even throw a tantrum. And no wonder, for this important conjecture seems to be invalidated. This means they can no longer predict or anticipate the world. Their map of reality, much of which is linked together by this important conjecture has been suddenly called into question and has seemed to be crushed. This must be very frightening to the child. Maria also pointed out that sometimes children will play games which tend to validate this conjecture. Such a game is that of hide and seek where the children will always be found in the same place.

The point is that young children do not have sufficient connections in their brains for new information to be just slotted into place. They have to rely on 'hands on' doing in order to absorb and understand knowledge. Later when they have become adults they normally do have such large numbers of links in their brains which enable them to absorb the ideas of others whole.

The academic dispute. 

All this brings us back to the question of whether 'hands on' learning is essential to learning and if so how much is needed and useful. This is still one of the disputes about learning among academics. Should we be doing things in order to learn, or should we be absorbing ready made knowledge as held in media such as text books or lectures? 

This is simply not the right question to ask as there is no reason for this to be an either or question. In fact research has shown consistently that a small amount of discovery or doing included in other types of learning provides that learning with concrete reference wich improves both understanding and retention. This improvement in learning is not proportional to the amount of doing involved but rather a very large increase.   

Hands on is best for the young child. 

For young children the building of a model of reality composed of invariant theories is paramount in learning, and can only be accomplished by hands on personal experimentation. Piaget and Montessori and others understanding of children, makes this very clear. It follows then, that the younger a child is, the more he or she is in need of doing. For early learning must be about forming conjectures and then having them confirmed or disconfirmed by subsequent events. An important part of this is testing the conjectures which can only be performed by doing (by acting on the environment and ascertaining the results). The younger a child is the less formed his/her map of reality will be, hence the greater the need for "doing" or hands on in learning.

The transmission of our knowledge heritage. 

However, one of the purposes of a fully formed map of reality is to bypass the necessity of having to do everything in order to form theories. We can, as our map or model of reality approaches being fully formed, readily absorb the theories of others, whole, only adjusting them a little to fit the rest of our individual maps of reality. At some point we form a conjecture to the effect that the body of theories in books and other media are likely to be valid if held to be so by many others. Therefore these can be accepted into our maps of reality whole without test. We start to accept them as being true. So while learning by doing is very important for young children, and more so the younger they are, it becomes increasingly less so as they approach the stage of having a fully formed map of reality.

Hands on benefits for learning.

There are however, many good reasons to continue hands on learning long after the absolute need for it has ceased. There are five clear main benefits of continuing learning by doing:

Firstly doing helps create interest especially through usefulness.

Secondly doing supplies concrete examples that enable meaningfulness and thus understanding.

Thirdly doing necessitates the use of many sensory channels while learning wich increases recall.

Fourthly doing necessitates building on what has gone before and linking new information to the vast networks of links within our minds again providing understanding.

Fifthly doing necessitates imitation of human behavior models acquiring skills and learning in general.

Hands on usefulness and interest. 

One of the things that makes information interesting to children is the immediate usefulness they see in it. In other words they perceive how it could be used for something and may well wish to use it. However, much of what children are taught in most schools is very abstract. This abstractness when children are young, holds very little interest for them, and so is difficult for them to learn. Even as children get older and grow up into adults they still often need to see the usefulness of something in order to find it interesting at least at first. Indeed the practicality of something that is perceived as useful can and does create interest in that thing and thus ensures that it is learnt.

So hands on learning has the attractiveness of being generally more interesting to to all people and is essential to the interest of young children. While 'hands on' learning may seem to take a long time because it entails many actions involved in doing something such as an experiment or making detailed observations, the knowledge is actually learnt quickly, easily and permanently compared with something that is told to you. If we want people to learn quickly easily and permanently, doing or hands on learning is the way to go. It activates interest to make this both possible and likely.

With usefulness the 'doing' here has two functions. We learn in order to do something that we perceive as useful. The doing actually comes after the learning, so it is learning in order to do. On the other hand we also learn to do the useful something by doing it.

Hands on and concrete examples.

Young children do not have sufficient abstract concepts to easily build on, when trying to form new abstract concepts. They need instead, to build abstract concepts up out of concrete examples. Even for adults approaching a subject about which they have little knowledge requires more concrete connections with reality to make it meaningful. Concreteness is all about meaningfulness. It is all about reaching into the minds of others and finding loops within their minds that knowledge can be hooked onto.

Concreteness is about giving examples, but not just any old examples. It is about giving examples that the learner is already very familiar with, placing it in the world of the learner's experience. The problem in learning is a matter of finding areas where abstract concepts can be applied to something real and familiar, to all those trying to learn them. Even though the educational establishment is very aware of the need for this concreteness in western schools, it is usually ignored. Teachers tend to just trot out abstract concepts without making any effort to connect them to the real world. Hands on, learning by doing, is completely concerned with concrete examples. Any knowledge can with a little thought be converted into an example that can be investigated in a process of hands on doing. 

Obviously concrete examples are not required in learning every single thing. Only a smatering of examples are necessary to make the initial connection with reality. After initial contact with reality the learner will be able to generalize and extrapolate those examples into others.

Hands on and the use of many senses. 

The sciences of psychology and neuroscience have given recently clear indication that learning is improved in every way if in our experience of learning the data involves more than one sense. Indeed, they show that the more sensory channels we use in perceiving the information to be learned, the better we will learn it. This means we will understand it better, we will remember it longer and we will remember it more accurately. There are many ways, of course, of using more senses when learning, but the simplest way of using more senses is if we learn by doing or 'hands on'. If you listen to a lecture you are using only the sense of hearing to accumulate the information being learned. If you read a book you using only the sense of sight and in a very limited way. Watching a video presentation can involve both hearing and sight in the process of learning. In his book "Brain Rules" john Medina has the following to say:

"Cognitive psychologist Richard Mayer probably has done more than anybody else to explore the link between multimedia exposure and learning. ...His experiments are ...smooth: Divide the room into three groups. One group gets information delivered via one sense (say, hearing), another the same information from another sense (say, sight), and the third group the same information delivered as a combination of the first two senses.

The groups in the multi sensory environments always do better than the groups in the unisensory environments. They have more accurate recall. Their recall has better resolution and lasts longer, evident even 20 years later. Problem solving improves. In one study, the group given multisensory presentations  generated more than 50 percent more creative solutions on a problem solving test than students who saw unisensory presentations. In another study, the improvement was more than 75 percent.

The benefits of multisensory inputs are physical as well. Our muscles react more quickly, our threshold for detecting stimuli improves, and our eyes react to to visual stimuli more quickly. It's not just combinations of sight and sound. When touch is combined with visual information, recognition learning leaps forward by by almost 30 percent, compared with touch alone. These improvements are greater than what you'd predict by simply adding up the unisensory data. This is sometimes called supra-additive integration. In other words, the positive contributions of multisensory presentations are greater that the sum of their parts.

Hands on doing however, can and usually does, involve all the senses in the process of learning. For a start hands on involves taking in information through the sense of touch. It also involves sensory information about how muscles feel as they are performing actions. Obviously doing, also requires using vision to see what you are doing. Indeed the visual information derived in the performance of an action is far superior to that involved in reading a book or watching a slide show. It is animated and much more elaborated. While doing does not require the use of hearing, it is certainly possible that hearing could be involved in the performance of an experiment or in perceiving the results of an experiment. Likewise the senses of taste could also be part of sensory feedback while doing. Almost all learning of a hands on sort involves the sense of smell. The real world is full of smells and any hands on activity will involve them. Smells are critically important solidifying memory and provide links to emotional states that further improve the length of life and accuracy of memory.      

Hands on and iteration. 

When we learn by doing in what is understood to be a 'hands on' way, we are often repeating or practicing without the repetition being exact. These repetitive actions are better described by the word iteration. Webster's dictionary informs us that the word iteration can have the following meaning: a procedure in which repetition of a sequence of operations yields results successively closer to a desired result. The desired result in this case is learning more each time through the sequence of operations. This kind of learning through the repetition (iteration) of a series of operations, has been shown to be critical in the learning processes of very young children.

In terms of brain activity this means that each time through an activity some new neurons are activated along with the old ones. In doing this each time we are connecting to more and more parts of the brain. This means the same memory is being used but each time in different ways. This in turn means the memory is becoming more and more elaborated, which means memories that are more easily and accurately recalled as well as lasting longer in memory. The nerve impulse representing the memory can, not only travel faster and more easily, but is accessible from more parts of the brain, and is thus easier to access. Also, because the nerve fibers representing the main part of the memory become wrapped in considerably more myelin it is better protected and thus less likely to deteriorate. This also explains the idea that the brain keeps what it uses and discards what it is not using.

Hands on and imitation. 

Of course, imitating the actions of others is not in itself learning by doing or 'hands on'. However, the manner in which most 'hands on' teaching is done, is normally one in which the teacher first demonstrates the actions to be performed, and then of the students imitating the teachers actions in an effort to get similar results. The fact is 'hands on' learning, to be effective, has to be guided in some way. Clearly learners cannot be left completely to their own devices to make discoveries that it has taken humanity thousands of years to discover. Such guidance can of course be presented in a series of illustrated diagrams in a book, or it can be demonstrated by a person such as a teacher. Although demonstration is not the only way of guiding learners in their 'hands on' learning, it is by far the simplest and most effective.

In order that learners learn by doing, rather than by imitating, the copying of results should be avoided where ever possible. Demonstrations by teachers, should be so structured, as to encourage learners to conduct their own experiments, for the purpose of discovering, such results as they manage to obtain themselves. This would require that teaching demonstrations used to give direction to learner experiments, be not concluded, or at least the results or conclusions of the experimental demonstration should be hidden from the learners. In this way students would be less likely to try and obtain so called correct results, and instead, be prepared to learn what they can from their own results. This kind of true 'hands on' learning is likewise more effective learning.  

While learning by imitation or learning from those modeling activities, is itself very conducive to fairly effective learning, learning by doing is far better. Both encourage interest if performed in a way that seems accessible and skillful. Both encourage general creativity. Both provide full accurate memories, understanding and accurate recall over long periods. However, using imitation as a stepping off place and a guide to enable 'hands on' learners to discover their own findings, further interests, induces to be creative, and produces even better understanding, memory accuracy and recall over even longer periods.

Hands on as science. 

Scientific research is of course formal 'hands on' learning. While many adults do not have to concern themselves with 'hands on' learning as part of their vocation, scientists are completely concerned with it. While those performing jobs like accountancy, driving, or mechanic do not have to interrogate the universe to make new discoveries about it, scientists of all sorts are all about making hands on discoveries. Nearly all subjects that are learned at school could be said to be sciences in this view. New discoveries can be made in history, geology, mathematics, engineering and art to name a few. In order to progress, all subjects require hands on speculation and testing, they require learning by doing.

Hands on as preparation for scientific work. 

It follows then that it may be a good idea, at any age, to have children doing 'hands on' work, not simply to make the learning accurate, understandable, and memorable, but also as preparation for the kind of work that requires research to be done. Research initiated by children while they are young, would keep alive learning by doing and also help encourage creation. Indeed as pointed out on our learntolearn page knowing the proceedures the meta-knowledge of how scientific research is conducted to produce highly probable findings would greatly improve our cognitive toolkits. These necessary life activities would be well served by letting the children keep their hand in, so to speak, later in life.

Designing hands on courses.

When designing hands on courses schools, teachers and educacional administrators should be aware that there are two very different guiding principles, each of which lead to two very different sorts of course curriculums. Hands on learning by its nature as natural learning is ideal for courses that are designed to appeal to people's interests and so develops courses for student directed learning. In this way student directed learning can provid a kind of smorgas board of choices for learners. On the other hand hands on learning also provides an excelent way of preparing learners for their eventual vocations. It can be a way of providing learners with the skill they will need to perforn well  in their chosen profession.

Learner directed learning as a way of awakening a love match with learning.

Some people might wonder why schools and universities would need to concern themselves with Learner directed learning, and indeed most of them do not. This does not mean that that such courses would not be a better way of learning. The main benefit of this kind of learning is that it is intensly pleasurable, adictive and awakens a life long love afair with learning. The usefulness of a love afair with learning cannot be over estimated. The desire to continue learning, will always prepare us better, in the long run, for any circumstance that life may throw at us. It prepares us much better than any specific skill or knowledge we might have learned.

The virtual schools and universities.

Learning on the world wide web has the potential, for the first time, to enable truly learner directed learning. In his book "Making Minds Less Well Educated Than Our Own" Roger Schank has a lot to say about this. He says:

"Newspapers are full of stories about how the idea of a virtual university did not work, but it may be just a little early to to write the obituary for the concept. Most univewrsities went into the online course building business without attempting to understand why students attend universities and what an online offering should look like. They naturally assumed that the courses they offer were very valuable and that students would flock to the online versions. But as we have seen, students take courses in collrge because they are required to do so for degreesor other certificationthat they seek. Left to their own devices, students would rather not attend courses (and they often don't), because courses all too often feature lecturers who drone on endlessly about subjects that students know will never matter in their lives.

Another reason that students attend college is for the experience of being with other students, including social events and intellectual discussions... What universities offer is the posibility of exciting students to work on projects that faculty are involved in. They also offer one-on-one mentoring to help foster a student's ideas or projects. Or, they offer lively discussions on complex issues, informed by faculty. These are the things that must be put online. To do so, requires building online experiences (not necessarily courses) that lead to degrees. This can be done by allowing students to work in teams with mentors on projects that are simulations of real life experiences and help prepare students for the real world."

What else is needed to acomplish this and does it need to involve degrees? This depends on why people want to learn. While there can be no doubt that most people learn only to get degrees, this cannot and should not be the only reason to learn. The internet and the world wide web have given us an oppertunity to educate the world as never before. It has given us an opportunity to place learning at the fingertips of nearly every living person on earth. All a person needs to use the net is a small device and a power supply and these are available in increasingly remote and poor places of the world.

If we want the internet to reach its potential to as a means to universal learning we have to make online courses or experiences interesting, fun and of course hands on. Learners use the net to learn when they want to learn so it is always a matter of making what is available to learn something people want to learn. The most important thing about hand on is that something must be physically required to be done not just reading or copying notes but physical actions that through iteration become learned skills. So online courses cannot be just recorded lectures or information or information that is then tested. It must be a series of tasks that involve real experiences, modeled experiences, and or simulated experiences. Only in this way will it be desirable and memorable to learn. How to make courses interesting and fun structurally has been covered in the other in the other keys to learning such as key 3, key 7 and key 8 and so will not be discussed further here.

However, what makes courses interesing to a wide variety of learners is choice. There should be a wide variety of courses on every imagionable subject and also considerable choice in the number of ways each subject matter is presented. Lectures and demonstrations should not be excluded especially those performed by presenters that are highly skilled and enertaining. Although not for everybody and not very efective as a learning method they may be just what some learners are looking for. The beauty of online courses is they do not take up a lot of physical space so nothing need be thown away thus anything should be available for learners to find if they know what they are looking for. 

Of course the problem with too much choice comes when people do not know what they are looking for. This is not a problem for the internet. The internet can easily solve choosing problems by having people write reviews of the courses and by keeping track of how popular each course is. In this way people can make informed choices where the choices of others guide them limiting the number of viable choices in the process. 

Learning in order to prepare to perform in a chosen vocation. 

In the end it may also be important to also consider the idea that learning "knowledge" is not sufficient in itself, and should be supplemented by learning the skills of applying that knowledge out in the world (doing). It is not only research that can suffer from this lack of these practical skills. The learning of abstract ideas accurately, understanding the information, and being able to recall it accurately and fully is but a small part of any kind of work. It is however the only part most schooling provides. 

Three ways of getting work preparation. 

If part of what learning is, is preparing us for working out in the world, we would be well advised to learn the skills needed to apply knowledge in the work we will eventually do. The three ways of preparing for work, by learning the necessary practical skills, are simulation of the work situation in the classroom, simulation of the work environment in a computer simulator, and work experience where the learner spends some of his school time out in the real world of work. Idealy good preperation should incluce all three.

  1. Simulation in schools. Schools can and sometimes do provide a some sort of simulation of how scientific work is prepared for, and undertaken in school labs. Other ways schools could provide simulation is through various games and other types of computer programs that simulate various kinds of work. Other ways schools can simulate work is by allowing in school group activities that somewat mirror the outside world of work. Politics can be simulated by allowing students to take part in school government making the rules and electing their own officers. A school newspaper can mirror that world. A school play can help prepare for the world of acting. Various sport s prepare students to become sportsmen. Clearly this sort of preperation could be extended to other subjects.   

  2. Work simulation. Real work simulation generally does not take place in schools, but rather as on the job training done by those who's work is too dangerous to train for when it's real. The original, most famous simulator of this sort is the flight simulator. Although its essential feature is also a computer program that simulates flying it is also as complete an environment to duplicate the inside of an airplane as possible, including dials switches etc., all of which are part of the simulation.   

  3. Work experience. Work experience is of course where part of the school experience is actually going out into the world of work and acting as an intern or some other kind of apprentice. This kind of schooling is quite usual in several professions and hopefully will include many more professions as time goes by. One such profession is newspaper reporting. With the way reporting is set up on the web kids can get a start in this at a very early age. The traditional model for this kind of learning is the medical profession. All doctors go through an on the job apprenticeship, as the last part of their medical training. This is very effective learning, which has stood the test of time, and can be traced back to the highly effective learning environments created by the ancient guilds.   

Simulation in schools.

Although schools are not for the most part set up to simulate the various types of work out in the world with a little imagination and the use of special curiculums they can easily be converted to doing just that. The efficiency of this kind of learning is easily demonstrated in those professions that still require apprenticeships such as doctors or pilots who have to learn on a simulator. Dotors and pilots have the lives of people in their hands so it is essential the are able to learn without putting people at risk. On the other hand why should learners go into any for of work less prepared than doctors and pilots? As pointed out previously the only good other reason to learn is to prepare onesself for ones vocation.

There was a time when it was thought that each person worked alone and should work alone like a cog in an enormous machine. This idea did not describe what was really going on which was workers cooperating in order to accomplish something together with all the complex interactions that entails. If schools are going to try and simulate vocations they need to simulate not only the work itself but the complex interacions between the various workers. Most types of work are at heart a cooperative efforts. Vocations are where a group of people come together to make something. It might be a plan for a building, or the construction of the building, the running of a newspaper, or a hospital, a legal firm, a store, or even a department for research and development. What ever the type of employment it is it involves interactions with others. Even artists and inventors who are typically thought to work alone have to deal with gallery owners, buyers etc.

All this cooperative back and forth interaction creates stories in which the workers are role players as in a play. As these interactions work their magic over time the workers will change their roles many times. Or they may take on aspects of other's roles while they they continue in their main role. Thus they need to be able to perform many roles to perform well in a vocation or atleast understand what the people in those roles are doing. A good course or curriculum should should provide students with a opportunity to learn each of those roles by performing each of them. Think how efficient it would be if the people applying for jobs could all actually do the work involved because they had already learned it at college or university.            
A story centered Curriculum.
In his book "Making Minds Less Well Educated Than Our Own" Roger Schank suggests a story centered approach to designing courses and a curriculm. He eplains what he means as follows:

"The idea behind the story centered curriculum (SCC) is that a good curriculum should tell a story. The story should be one in which the student plays one or more roles. Those roles should be roles that normally come up in such a story. The curriculum is intended to teach the student how to do something. The roles should be ones that the graduate of such a program might actually do in real life work environment or might actually need to know about (possibly because he is likely to manage or work with someone who performs that role."

Schank goes on to provide an outline of of some steps to take in order to build such a curriculum:

"Step 1 Determine the career goals of the student for adult students or use goals that children have to design situations that exploit those goals."

'Step 2 Determine the key activities that comprise the life of a person who has achieved the goal to which the studen aspires."

"Step 3 Determine what key events might occur in the life of a person who has achieved such a goal."

"Step 4 Come up with a story that all the above fit neatly within."

"Step 5 Determine what things a person entering the curriculum would need to know that are not particularly part of the story per se." 


Even though it is clear that 'hands on' learning is more important for children and the younger they are the more imortant, clearly learning by doing should never be done away with for adults. While this site proposes that hands on learning is far less important when a map of reality is fully formed, it is nevertheless a highly beneficial and needed part of all learning. Although not all learning can or should be discovery or hands on learning such learning has been shown to be far more efficient than any other kind of learning. Even a small amount of hands on learning added to other types of learning has been shown to improve the understanding and recall of that learning. 

"In the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply." Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Life long, practical, learning. 

Learning is a process of connecting the information inside a person to the information outside a person. We know or understand something because we have connected and made consonant the information we already knew with the new information collected by our senses. This is a life long process for all living things. But there is a difference between this every day experience of learning and learning where we actively seek to enlarge our knowledge base by seeking new information in books and other media after our school education has been terminated.

Hands on learning prepares us for this kind of life long learning by blurring the experience of learning with the experience of work. Instead of seeing work and learning as separate, we begin to experience learning as work, and work as learning.

Many professionals such as doctors need to update their knowledge throughout their working careers so they can continue to do their job at all. In other professions such as accounting this may not be so obvious. However, in a vocation like accounting there has been vast change also, where the recording has moved from the world of paper to that of computers and computer programs. Learning in any vocation has to be continuous, if a person wishes to continually improve in that vocation. Improvement means learning, and people who have learned through 'hands on' learning are prepared for this.

The world of work just fifty years ago was one where employees entered a profession having learned most of what they would need to perform well in that profession for the rest of their life. This is no longer the case. For people now entering the workforce, it is likely their work will be completely transformed while they are working there. It is now likely they will have to learn many new ways of working and how to do many new types of work just to stay employed. For those who welcome a life of learning this is no problem and they will survive and thrive on the changes. Those who are unable to continue to learn on the other hand are likey to fall by the wayside.

One would hope, of course, that people would also move beyond the world of work and expand their life long learning into fields not directly connected to their work. It seems possible that the more hands on learning a child has experienced, the more his/her interests may be expanded, and thus the more likely such a person will become a general life long learner.

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