Learning & Warrant
I. Learning is often difficult. One reason is that we don't have a clear idea of what it means to learn. If we conceive of learning as increasing in knowledge and intellectual prowess, our educational focus is likely to be too narrow. Learning, as discussed on the previous two pages (Integral Learning 1 and Integral Learning 2), means increasing in knowledge, skills, habits, awareness, relationships, and faith. Keeping this in mind helps us appreciate the many learning opportunities we experience every day.
II. Another reason that learning is difficult is that we're rarely sure of what we claim to know, but we don't want to admit it. We labor to discern which texts and teachers to trust. When we disagree with others, we often assume we're right, despite our nagging doubts. We argue. We blame. We hurt those we're closest to. We're vicious with those we say we love. And yet, we're convinced we're right.
A. Basing what we know or believe on our sensory perceptions and internal awareness doesn't give much cause (or "warrant") for confidence: our perceptions can be wrong, particularly when clouded by attempts to justify ourselves as knowers and to justify our assertions and assessments as well grounded.
B. Citing others who agree with us doesn't give much warrant for confidence, either: we tend to cite those who agree with us, while ignoring or deprecating those who don't. Even our citations are self-justifying.
C. To ground our beliefs, it's important that we
1. Ensure that what we know/believe has adequate foundation: it aligns with our perceptions (i.e., our sensory perceptions and internal awareness).
2. Ensure—to the extent that who or what we are trying to understand is knowable—that what we claim to know/believe coheres: it logically "fits together."
3. Ensure that what we know/believe has external confirmation; namely, that others who are mature in intellectual virtue
a. Agree with our conclusion, and/or
b. Agree, using mutually acknowledged criteria, that we have sufficient perceptual proficiency to draw the conclusion we've drawn.
D. To learn more about how we can be sure of what we claim to know, click here.
III. Learning can also be difficult when we're not aware of, or when we deny, how holistic learning is or how important virtue is to learning. Learning can also be difficult when we try to appear virtuous, instead of deliberately growing in virtue.
A. Instead of growing in virtue, all of us at some point try to avoid the messiness of being human, and we hold onto pride.
B. Instead of expecting to have flaws and mistakes as we grow in virtue, we hypocritically try to act mature—as if we have little more growing to do.
C. Instead of growing in virtue, we pretend we already know, or already "have it all together."
These are surprisingly easy traps to fall into, especially when we don't consider the four basic types of learning, which we can discern with two basic questions:
Natural & Normal Learning (1)
I. We said in the Introduction that a challenge seems simpler if we both
A. Recognize a similarity between a challenge we're facing and others we've faced in the past and also
B. Remember an efficient strategy we can use in response to the challenge.
II. We said, too, that a challenge seems quicker and easier if we can meet it head-on with appropriate skills, and we defined the term efficiency: the process of reducing our effort (how simple, quick, and easy our mind-body perceives a challenge to be), our time on task, and our frequency of errors. We said that sometimes, we can't make what we're doing very efficient—and that even trying can hamper our success. Our mind-bodies can only be aware of so much at any given time.
III. As parents, teachers, and support staff understand the process of learning, which relate to key principles of attention and motivation, we can choose which instructional methods are best suited to the tasks at hand. As we share our understanding with students, we can also equip them to recognize why certain assignments are worth doing and, thereby, empower them to stay motivated even when learning is difficult.
II. After an initial acclimation period, Integral Learning™ often helps families make a few activities they've been doing more intense, while other activities—those that occupy most of their waking hours—naturally become more purposeful, more productive, and generally more fun. Though this may seem like touch slogging at first, it's immensely powerful to understand! As we make regular time for the direct instruction and drill of normal, controllable learning and the family devotions or abstract strategy games of normal, cultural learning, it becomes increasingly possible to set aside more time for experiments, discovery, and exploration, which involve significant natural learning—along with down-time to daydream, allowing connections among our experiences to percolate to awareness.
III. Look at the Methods Guide above. Do you see the words "Natural" and "Normal?" These words ask us to discern the role that culture plays in the learning tasks at hand. The more that something is natural, the more likely we are to explore it without prodding from others. For babies, nursing, creeping, and crawling are natural. Playing imaginatively outside, getting dirty in the mud, and climbing trees is natural. Whether or not we opt to do these things, we're generally glad when our exploration isn't highly controlled or overly planned. Parents and teachers can plan for natural learning—in ways we'll discuss further on Integral Learning™ Page 6—the moment they know it's natural.
Natural & Normal Learning (2)
I. Natural: In natural learning experiences, rules primarily describe; they tell how things happen without human intervention.
A. If rules primarily describe we do well to seek out exploratory activities through such avenues as science demonstrations, outdoor education programs, children's theater, or community agencies like the YMCA.
B. Descriptive rules are often called "natural laws."
C. Learning that effects awareness of natural laws is called "natural learning."
II. Normal: In normal learning experiences, rules primarily prescribe; they tell how an authority has determined things should happen. Prescriptive rules may be spiritual (Divine, absolute) or cultural (moral or legal, relative).
A. If rules primarily prescribe, as they do with phonics and reading, there are going to be cultural components to the learning whether teachers like it or not. Rather than trying to minimize these components, we do well to make them explicit: we let students know the sounds that each letter or letter combination can make, for instance, and let them practice predicting the "next word" in sentences via fill-in-the-blank activities, which depend on and build cultural, contextual awareness.
B. Prescriptive rules are often called "norms." Divine norms are called "Absolute Law," and cultural norms are called "mores." (The singular form of "mores," by the way, is "mos.")
C. Learning that effects awareness of norms is called "normal learning."
III. These terms may be new, but distinguishing between natural & normal learning doesn't have to be hard. Just ask: Do animals do it?
A. Do animals read?
1. No. Thus, there is at least one cultural element to reading.
2. (They are actually many cultural elements to reading.)
B. Do animals do math?
1. No. Thus, there is at least one cultural element to doing math.
2. (There are actually many cultural elements to doing math.)
When Learning is Natural…
I. Natural learning proceeds by gains and losses.
A. Every new natural skill we gain includes aspects of our old skills, which we use in new ways.
B. Every new natural skill we gain comes at a price of diminished facility with our old skills, which we no longer use in the same way.
C. For example, as infants move from creeping to crawling—or as toddlers move from crawling to walking—some movement patterns from their previous ways of getting around are incorporated into their new ways of getting around. At the same time, their expertise as creepers or crawlers, respectively, diminishes. This is actually quite obvious in experience: adults walk fine, but crawling (which most of previously did quite well) takes a bit to "get back into."
II. Natural learning most often occurs…
A. With minimal pressure (e.g., imaginative play)
B. With minimal modern "entertainment"
III. "Natural" isn't necessarily better.
A. Trying to make all learning natural would, in fact, be foolish. Some learning proceeds best by prescriptive rules… even by drill.
B. Thus, it's important to ask of any curriculum that bill itself as natural, "Who cares?" or "Why is 'natural' good in this case?"
C. If we can't find a reason why natural would be good per se, we might want to ignore such advertising in our purchasing decisions.
IV. An Example: Mathematics—A cultural understanding of quantity.
A. Math has a natural foundation. Counting requires us to sequence, which requires basic vestibular function that is within the grasp of most students. Skip-counting and multiplication require us to group, which requires a moderate level of tactile proficiency that is within the grasp of many students—but certainly not all. Especially in families in which students received little touch growing up, or for students who choose hobbies that involve very little kind touch (e.g., watching television, playing video games), grouping can be a challenge. Working to develop foundational sensory skills is thus important to math performance.
B. Math is also highly cultural. It took thousands of years for brilliant minds to conceive of the zero, for instance. We should not, therefore, expect students to "discover" the zero. Any teacher who says that a student "discovered" the concept of zero under her tutelage is very likely mistaken; much more likely, the student "discovered" how to give the teacher the answers she was looking for.
C. The rules of math are not necessarily prescriptive or descriptive. When a student first encounters mathematical operations, for instance
1. (S)he may not understand that the rules describe. (S)he should thus be given opportunity to explore addition, subtraction, and grouping hands-on.
2. As (s)he comes to understand how the rules governing math describe how addition, subtraction, grouping, and other operations work, (s)he can also (sometimes simultaneously) learn prescribed computational processes. When these processes are first introduced, they're complex. Hence, the learner's consideration of what's going on should be mediated—an instructor should help him/her discern what's most important.
3. As the learner develops facility with these prescribed processes, the processes seem easier to control. Hence, (s)he can now train.
When Learning is Normal…
I. When learning is normal, instruction is vital!
A. The abilities to tell things apart and to evaluate what parts are most important is (in part) cultural. Thus, it's important that parents and teachers, as elders in the culture, help the learners in our lives develop these abilities.
B. The abilities to tell things apart and to evaluate what parts are most important in part depend on our ability to focus. Since not every learner can focus equally well when asked to, it's also important that
1. We don't assume that every learner is focusing on the same thing, and
2. We help learners discern which aspects are most important to focus upon (and, ultimately, to develop the ability to focus).
C. A purely "developmental" model of instruction tends to under-develop abilities.
1. We can begin to use many abilities before we've entirely developed them. (We don't have to play college ball before we can join an intramural team.)
2. Moreover, using under-developed abilities helps us recognize a need to develop them. (If I rarely shoot the ball, I can't know how likely I am to score under pressure, and there is simply no substitute for failure in motivating me to learn and train.)
3. Based on these two premises alone, we can reject a purely “developmental” model of instruction, which avoids exposing children to elements of culture that they cannot yet do naturally. It is possible, even desirable, to explore and practice what we haven't yet mastered.
4. Put bluntly, we must allow ourselves and others to experience the pain of not knowing—that anomie (or sense of being “not at home”) that only deep understanding can resolve.
D. It is highly irresponsible to look at what children develop without cultural intervention and then structure teaching—which necessarily involves cultural intervention—as if a child should be left alone to discover curriculum.
1. Some may argue, philosophically, that learning gained through discovery is superior to learning gained through instruction. (It often is.)
2. If this principle were universally valid, however, we ought to dispense with curriculum, teachers, and even adult guidance and let children discover the meaning of life themselves.
3. Few would advocate this perilous and, indeed, stupid approach to child rearing—or, more accurately, child abandonment.
4. If we would not endorse this principle universally, we ought to at least question it in certain instances. “Discovery learning” at “developmentally appropriate times” isn’t a universally valid recommendation.
E. It is essential to ensure students' prior cultural understanding of key concepts—either through assessment or through re-teaching. Concepts let a student know what to focus on and, as a result, how to structure knowledge-acquisition. To leave a student with insufficient conceptual awareness is a tremendous disservice—yet since concepts are cultural, they often must be taught.
Complex & Controllable Learning
I. Look again at the Methods Guide at right. Do you see the words "Complex" and "Controllable?" These words ask us to discern how complex the student perceives the learning at hand. Essentially, taking the learner's prior knowledge into account, how manageable is what we're learning?"
A. If a learner seems to perceive an activity as highly complex, it's often necessary to mediate the experience one-on-one—to use movement and manipulatives in math, for instance, until something "clicks" enough for us to move on.
B. On the other hand, if a learner brings a teachable spirit and sufficient background knowledge to a learning activity, the activity is often controllable, and we do well to use training or direct instruction, making the presentation as clear and concise as possible.
II. Whether we're participating in hands-on discovery or being drilled in basic skills, the more that something is controllable, the more likely we are to treat it as a single task, which we can accomplish automatically, almost without thinking.The more that something is complex, the more likely we are to treat it as a mammoth project, which we can accomplish only after much deliberation. Many factors may make a learning experience seem complex. Below, we're going to look at a few—but first, let's revisit that chart from the Introduction, which we reviewed above.
I. When we first explored the four basic types of learning, we examined each looking first at rules. We considered how the kinds of rules that govern each type of learning can help us choose the most efficient methods of instruction. Above, we've considered how what we're trying to learn or teach—the content—helps us discern both
A. The kind of rules that govern each basic type of learning, and
B. The most efficient methods of instruction—of teaching, or self-teaching, each type.
II. The following chart recaps what we've explored. You're welcome to gloss over "Modalities" (also called "Contents of Thought" or "Thought Contents"). We've included this column in case, having received a Structure of Intellect profile, you're interested in seeing how your or your child's strengths and weaknesses relate to these basic types of learning:
– Content –
When & Why?
– Criteria –
– Methods –
When we're experiencing a real, tangible thing…
We often don't know or simply don't articulate rules that describe how we're interacting with it—sometimes because we believe (perhaps correctly) that explicit rules may hinder our learning. This type of learning is called…
It occurs when we're working with things that are…
When we're watching or participating in an interaction between people or things—when our experience is relational…
We often experiment and explore, trying to understand how this kind of interaction works. Often, we stop exploring once (if asked) we could describe explicitly how this interaction works. This type of learning is called…
It occurs when we're working with things that are…
When we refer to feelings, ideas, or people in communication, conveying meaning…
We rely on shared understandings of commitments and ways of communicating that can be clarified by prescriptive guidelines. Learning and using these guidelines to probe and abstract complex inter-relationships is called…
Apprenticeship (Mediated Learning)
It occurs when we're working with things that can be made…
When we represent our understanding with symbols…
We increase our power to manipulate parts of inter-relationships according to prescriptive rules that help us simplify the complexities of language. Learning to understand and use symbols is called…
Skills Instruction & Training
It occurs when we're working with things that can be made…
What Makes Learning Complex? (1)
This marks a transition in the kind of text you're reading. Thus far, you've been reading educational philosophy and theology that's pertinent to learning. What you'll be reading below, and on pages to come, is more descriptive psychology—without, we hope, much reification. Most readers will find what follows easier reading—a nice surprise! We hope you even find some of what follows a little obvious. Feel free to take a break now, stretch a bit, and come back with a little snack.
I. Many Parts: A learning experience that has many parts is naturally more complex than one with few parts. (You know this, right? Did you take your break? If you've been reading straight through, we think you deserve one now!) A learning experience becomes more complex when a learner has to answer not just “What is it?” but “How are its parts related?”
A. Unwieldy: What makes a learning experience complex is not the number of parts or connections a stimulus has per se; what makes it complex is whether it readily becomes unwieldy. Moving a 350 lb. barrel would be complex for many learners: though there may not be many parts to the barrel, there are many "parts" to the learning situation: it can easily go awry. Hence, we call the learning “complex.” Assembling a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle is also complex: the sheer number of pieces make the project unwieldy.
B. Personal: Complexity is a personal perception. Each of the criteria below depends on a learner’s abilities, which have been shaped by the learner’s life experience, health, genetics, age, and gender. What one learner can readily control, another learner may find inordinately complex.
II. Cumbersome Instructions: A learning experience with instructions and/or rules that aren’t easy to discern seems more complex than one with instructions that are easy to understand. (You knew that, too, didn't you? Which is more complex: assembling a toy with instructions poorly translated from Chinese, or assembling the same toy with a follow-along, American-made video? That's all we're talking about here.)
What Makes Learning Complex? (2)
III. Irrevocable Choices: A learning experience that requires a learner to make many choices and/or choices (s)he can’t readily take back is naturally more complex than one which doesn’t require many choices—or which requires choices with temporary, unimportant consequences. (Again, you may want to re-read this, think of a personal example or two, then reassure yourself: I know that! When you have to commit to something, doesn't it usually seem more daunting a decision—and thus more unwieldy an experience—than when you can back out or adjust course along the way?)
A. In many ways, our brains are truly like computers designed to run particular types of programs.
B. Each of us has different hardware, yet our "hardware" isn't like the "hardware" of a computer. Shut a computer down, and it lies dormant, ready to "boot up" for the next run. But we can't shut our brains down. A dormant brain is a dying, decaying brain.
C. In biological systems, the rule of the day is "use it or lose it." Our brain's "hardware" and "software" actually structure themselves to expect more of what we're doing, and to do better next time whatever we're practicing now—even if we're practicing loafing.
D. With computers, as long as we don't add programs, share files, or get online, we're not likely to encounter many software bugs or catch computer viruses. We choose to do these things, of course, despite the risks. With our brains, we don't even have a choice: we must get out in the world, where we're very likely to encounter a lot of malicious code.
E. Sometimes, people experience brain damage, and age eventually takes its toll for most. But for the majority of people, through the majority of our lives, we program our brains with whatever we practice. And when we "program" our brains, we're not just writing software. We're fundamentally changing hardware. Hardware isn't infinitely malleable, but it's a lot more malleable than it's often given credit for.
F. We're changing our hardware with every decision; though we can't stop time (and thus can't ever fully "take back" a choice we've made), we can often at least partly undo any damage a choice we've made has caused.
1. Sometimes, however, one choice seems to follow another, weaving an intricate web. As we get more entwined, it often becomes clearer that we can't go back. When learning involves such a web of choices, or any major choice, it's more important that we check and re-check our facts. This makes learning more complex.
2. Other times, just finding the confidence to choose can be daunting: our emotions can cloud our judgment, and even a simple choice can seem complex.
What Makes Learning Complex? (3)
IV. Unfamiliar Content: A learning experience that seems foreign or touches on an area outside a learner’s usual experience—that requires a learner to work with information outside his/her experience—is naturally more complex than a learning experience involving the familiar. (This isn't a surprise either, is it?)
A. The complexity a learner perceives in unfamiliar content increases when, for whatever reason, a learner isn’t as proficient with the mode of thinking (or "Thought Content") that a learning experience requires. (In many ways, the concept of Thought Contents is similar to that of "learning styles.") Perhaps a learning experience requires a learner to do lots of hands-on work, but (s)he's best with words—or vice versa.
B. Hands-on work is part of the Figural Thought Content. Expressing oneself in words is part of the seMantic Thought Content (which, yes, is purposefully written with awkward capitalization).
V. Learner’s Difficulties: A learning experience becomes more complex when, for whatever reason, a learner doesn’t perceive how simple the experience can be. (Haven't we all had the experience, after starting a project, realizing "That was it?! …that's all I had to do?! I thought it was going to be a lot tougher.) Reasons learners struggle include
A. Physical Illness: Sometimes, a learner is or has been physically ill. Naturally, (s)he focuses more on healing than on learning. Not being able to devote his/her “all” to the task at hand, (s)he perceives the task as more unwieldy… more difficult… more complex.
B. Different Attentional Priorities: Sometimes, a learner prioritizes paying attention to things other than the learning experience, or (s)he pays attention to aspects of the learning experience that magnify how complex it seems.
1. Of course, almost anything mentioned on this page can distract a learner's focus—physical illness; intense emotions, confusing sensations, high-pressure decisions, cumbersome instructions, unfamiliar content, or a learner's own seeming inability to make sense of things. Any of these impair a learner's attention.
2. A learner's attention can also be impaired by an ongoing difficulty with one of the Seven Attention Factors™, described alongside the Integral Learning™ model on the next page in this series. Attention Factors™ affect a learner’s engagement with a learning experience.
What Makes Learning Complex? (4)
V. Learner’s Difficulties (continued)
C. Intense, Primal Emotions: Sometimes, a learner is angry or afraid. (S)he perceives a need to change priorities, which invariably requires considering a lot of competing factors.
a. Anger is our body's fundamental productive (outward-focused) response to a perception that we must change our priorities.
b. Fear is our body's fundamental protective (withdrawing) response to a perception that we must change our priorities.
2. A somatic understanding of these emotions can help us move past trying to swallow our anger, vent it, or hold it down until we can subtly strike back—or trying to convince ourselves that we really needn't be afraid.
a. These are typical responses to these intense emotions; indeed, they're often then only ones mentioned in pop psychology books. These books generally suggest reasons from one's past (often having to do with one's parents) for why fear or anger is a current problem. Often, parents of children with attachment issues have read these books' presentations that anger and fear are cognitive and emotional issues, and they've been dismayed… again and again… at the mismatch between the theories they've read and the experiences their children are having.
b. From a somatic perspective, anger and fear are not only more foundational than other emotions, they're inherently useful: they are our body's way of alerting us to times we may need to change our priorities.
3. Considering these emotions' usefulness, we can train learners to ask:
a. Socially, am I really being asked to change my priorities?
1) If yes… I need to be aware of my priorities and deploy social strategies (which we won't summarize here).
2) If no… I can proceed to b.:
b. Personally, is it urgent for me to attend to this new priority?
1) If yes… what person or persons would best attend to this new priority? – and – how would this new priority best be attended to?
2) If no… how can I best use the gift of this productive or protective energy now – and – what important priorities can I attend to?
What Makes Learning Complex? (5)
V. Learner’s Difficulties (continued)
D. Sensory Integration Difficulties: Overall, learners frequently don’t perceive how simple a learning experience really can be because they aren’t using their foundational senses efficiently: their perceptions of learning experiences are thus fragmented, so the experiences seem to have more “parts” or “aspects”—more fragments—than they really do. These learners have difficulties with Sensory Integration, which almost inevitably affects every function of Arousal and Memory in the Integral Learning™ model. (The Integral Learning™ model incorporates six general intellectual functions, adding Arousal to the five cognitive operations of J. P. Guilford's Structure of Intellect Model; i.e., Memory and the four cognitive functions listed in parentheses below.)
E. Underdeveloped Cognitive Abilities: Finally, learners can over-estimate the complexity of learning experiences because they aren’t using their thinking skills efficiently: perhaps they have not developed the skills; perhaps they have lost them from lack of use as they’ve aged; or perhaps, due to difficulties with Arousal and Memory, they struggle to coordinate their use. Regardless, learners may not see how things relate (Evaluation), what needs to be done (Cognition), what can be done to make a job easier (Divergent Production), or effectively anticipate what to do if something goes wrong (coNvergent Production).
• If you're taking notes, you might want to write down the six general intellectual functions now, along with your impressions of
1. What they are and
2. How they show up in the life of a struggling learner you care about.
• Specifically, you may want to consider: Can (s)he see how things relate? Does (s)he usually notice what needs to be done? Does (s)he dream up ways to do things differently? Is (s)he good at discerning the best way to do something? After completing this exercise, you can click below to see the old Integral Learning™ model. Though it's since been updated, so it's even clearer, we still think you're in for a treat.