Two Views of Learning

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to understand how we learn. The most common way is to see the student as an empty vessel, to be filled with knowledge. This is the view behind 99% of language instruction in Hong Kong. But is it really an accurate model of how we come to know something?

Imagine that you are learning an entirely new language. You start with the first words… it may seem that you are introducing these words into the empty space of your mind. And yet, this is not quite what is happening. When you learn the word “table”, you already know what a table is. You have not only the first, Chinese word for “table”, you also have a sense, a mental picture, an idea of what a table is. The new word for “table” fits with what you already know.

Hong Kong’s model of instruction ignores this dimension of fitting in, of recognition, in learning new things. In Hong Kong (and in Asia generally), we learn by instruction (from the Latin “instruere”, to build in; this verb also has a military meaning: to line up the troops!).

However, there is also an older sense of learning, which reflects a sense of drawing out the student’s knowledge from himself. The concept goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, such as Plato, but the word for it is from Latin, and it’s an unexpectedly familiar word: education: “e” or “ex” means “out”, and “ducere” means to draw, to pull, to lead. Literally, “education” means pulling knowledge out of the student, not pushing it in.

At Gaia Language, we think long and hard about what education really means, and as our thoughts and experiences develop–as they will, thanks to you–we invite you to this blog.




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