Who doesn’t want to shorten their learning curve when they’re learning a new skill, right? But research from a Harvard Professor suggests that we’ve been going about it the wrong way, that our traditional models of learning are inhibiting our progress. Practice makes perfect? Apparently not. If you’re learning a new skill, Ellen Langer’s innovative approach to mindful learning may be just what you’re looking for. Here’s why mindful learning will shorten your learning curve.
Mindless Learning Myths
Mindfulness expert, Ellen Langer’s research suggests that our current approach to learning is peppered with a whole bunch of learning myths that are slowing us down. That’s right, we’ve been mindlessly following rote learning and hindering our progress. The first of these learning myths is that we must learn the basics until they become second nature.
Traditional ways of learning can result in mindless behaviour because we’re taught to ‘overlearn’ tasks and facts, resulting in the belief that there is only one way to learn and that’s one has been taught. Different learning situations require a different response Mindless learning ignores this, ploughs on regardless, stifling our creativity. Langer believes that there’s another way.
Mindfulness: A Learning Paradigm Shift
Langer suggests an alternative learning methodology, where skills and facts are taught conditionally, enabling us to remain aware of the fact that different situations may require different approaches or simply put, adopting mindful learning. More mindful learning enables us to flex our learning depending upon the demands of our situation.
For Langer, that traditional assumption that we need to keep learning something on auto pilot until it’s second nature is flawed. That thinking is fraught with mindless implications, locking us into rigid patterns of learning, minimising our flexibility. The results? we mindlessly perform new tasks as we zone out of the present moment, ignoring new learning information. We miss stuff.
We’re all different, we have different learning needs. One size doesn’t fit all and Langer totally gets this. Learning the basics are important but we should guard against over learning them so that those basics can be varied to each situation. We need to learn conditionally from experts and adjust those techniques to take into account our own differences and needs. The key to mindful learning is flexing, or sideways learning.
The Power of Mindful Learning
Langer’s pilot study gave a physics lesson, on video, to high school students who all had the same baseline education and experience. All the students were shown the same video but before they viewed the video, half the students were given an instruction sheet informing them that there would be two parts to the exercise.
Part one would be a 30 minute video introducing some basic concepts of physics. Part two was “a short questionnaire in which you will apply the concepts shown in the video”. The video presents only one of several outlooks on physics, which may or may not be helpful to you. Please feel free to use any additional methods you want to assist you in solving the problems.” The other group were given the same information except for the detail on several outlooks and additional methods. Why? Langer wanted to know whether allowing for alternative learning methods would result in mindful learning.
Both groups performed equally well when tested on the material but when they were asked to use the information creatively, only the students given the mindful instructions were able to. Even though the other group weren’t told to avoid drawing on previous experiences or knowledge, they didn’t. They stuck with what they knew, learning mindlessly, not flexing their learning depending upon what was happening in the present moment. They were’t mindful.
Sideways Mindful Learning
Langer advises that we step away from the standard traditional top-down (lecturing style of instruction) and bottom-up (relying on direct experience and practice of a new activity). They’re mindless and don’t serve our learning needs well. Longer suggests, instead that we use a third approach, which she calls ‘sideways learning’.
Mindful learning, a definition
Sideways learning is taking a mindful approach to learning. It’s noticing what is happening as it happens. It is stepping outside of autopilot and bringing present moment awareness to each learning situation. You’re fully focuses, completely absorbed in that moment, without any preconceived ideas about what should’ be happening.
How can we develop mindful learning?
A sideways learning approach means that we are always aware of changes as they occur, enabling us to flex, to adjust those basics that we have learned to fit the situation in front of us.
We can adopt a mindful state when learning by following five steps:
1. Remain open to novelty
2. Be alert to distinction
3. Adopt a sensitivity to different contexts
4. Have an implicit awareness of multiple perspectives
5. Be orientated in the present
Want to know more about mindfulness? Take a look at our free resources (e-books, podcasts, blogs, videos and toolkits) including our How Mindful are you? Psychometric or hop over to our sister site and dive into our free Introduction to Mindfulness Guide
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