Learning without teachers

I was poking around on the TED website, randomly watching videos – seriously, it’s a great way to spend 20 minutes or so when you have some free time – and I came across a really interesting video about teaching children advanced topics – without teachers.

Professor Sugata Mitra has been experimenting with allowing children the freedom to discover the answers to questions he poses without the benefit of a teacher directing them or giving them the answers.  The results, I’m sure you’ll agree, are fascinating:

The idea of children managing to not only figure out the answers to the problems they’re posed, but to have to figure out all the questions that come in between, is mind-blowing – until you realize that kids do that sort of thing all the time.  The most obvious example of this is video games – kids rarely read the instructions, but they’re able to figure out games and play them well in relatively short periods of time.  Come to think of it, the entire Internet is a video game of sorts, so Dr. Mitra’s method is not set apart that far.

It also reminded me of another web page I ran across, years ago, that talked about The Socratic Method and gave an example of the writer teaching binary numbers to a bunch of school children.  Dr. Mitra’s technique is similar, though perhaps a bit more open.  He’s asking questions, but only the most broad ones, as opposed to directing the lesson with a series of more specific queries meant to lead the mind.

One way or the other, the end result is the same: the kids are not only learning, but their interest in the topic is sparked.  Disinterest and the affectation of boredom with new ideas is so rampant in our popular culture that I’m really excited to see a method of learning that promotes curiosity and critical thinking.

At my job I’m often faced with people asking me for help with computer issues.  When those people are the average user, I generally just solve the problem as fast as I can and move on.  However, I get questions from other systems administrators, too.  I’m going to have to think about how I can use these methods to get them to learn the answers without me simply telling them the answers.  I’m sure that will not only get their minds working and make them better sysadmins, but also keep me sharp by forcing me to come up with creative ways to not simply give them the answers.

I’m not a parent, but those of you who are certainly have opportunities for this every day with your children.  How else can we promote this kind of enthusiasm for learning in everyday life?

1 Comment

  1. For a long time I was getting questions about how to fix / do stuff on the Mac by coworkers. I’d go and find out and then tell them. It occurred to me, one day, that most of the time I didn’t know how to do whatever it was being asked of me either, and I was just spending about 5-10 minutes googling, figuring it out, and then repeating solutions.

    It then occurred to me that I was doing a real disservice in not enabling my coworkers to solve problems on their own by doing the work figuring it out for them.

    Um… not sure where I’m going with that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>