The hows and the whys of learning

Two concepts rose to the surface in this this week’s reading on learning; how we learn and why we learn. When one is taught the process behind a skill they are learning the how. Whereas, when one seeks the reasons behind that particular process they seek to know the why.

Langer writes that “when we first learn a skill, we necessarily attend to each individual step” and the ways in which her process of learning differs around baking a cheesecake each year continues to bring delicious results. Additionally, many of our readings last week surrounding digital learning as well as Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think explores the paradigm shift of how access to information in our digital age has changed the process of how one learns. We are shifting from a place that sets computers and humans as opposites to a place where they are collaborating in order to “help us work, mediate and create.” Knowing the how helps create sustainability.

Keeping one on it toes, the why is ever-evolving.  It incorporates the context found in oneself as well as the respective environment and to what degree that context affects one’s process.  Sir Ken expresses teaching goes beyond delivering information, teachers must also “mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage” to ensure that any real learning taking place. Real learning takes place when one has a curious mindset, when  we desire to look beyond the steps of the process and the how something took place and discover the why it took place. Knowing the why helps create adaptability.

I need to be mindful of both the how and why when creating a platform of learning for students. Being new to teaching, I aim to have a better understanding of ways to cultivate that environment and am open to hearing suggestions for developing these best practices.


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10 Responses to The hows and the whys of learning

  1. Arash says:

    Hi Corrie,

    I find myself visually-nodding at the distinction of “know-how” versus real authentic knowledge that fully connects the steps, techniques, and details to broader realms of why we are learning this thing and how does it interact with our human existence, or nature, or Being in general. I would throw in some of the ideas of Heidegger Heidegger about technology but I think you explained it much better!

  2. kyunghee says:

    Thank you for your post, Corrie! When it comes to the reason why we learn and teach, I think we tend to regard education as a means to an end. We’ve tried to study hard, get good grades and earn degrees to get a better job and ultimately to gain riches and fame. Although such a reward might be effective to get A or any bonus, you will end up concerning only with reward and losing interests in learning. I believe mindful learning is more focusing on learning as an end in itself, just like curious children who enjoy exploring the world.

  3. Connor says:

    I really enjoyed your post, Corrie! I would agree that we can only really teach the “how” directly, but I think it may still be possible to almost rick the students into exploring the “why.” It is possible for us as teachers to provide the opportunity to students to explore what makes them curious about a certain topic. For example, if you are giving a lesson about one style of art, maybe you pose an assignment for students to explore the styles that influenced or were influenced by that style. This gives the students the chance to explore a style that interests them, finding information on their own, while still being pertinent to the class material. Similar assignments could be used in different disciplines, and this could give the teachers a chance to see what actually interests their students.

    • corrie says:

      Thanks for your suggestion. I haven’t thought to assign how work influences other work in the classroom yet. One of the ways that I tried to foster students being able to explore their own interest was by choosing an artist or piece of work we had studied in class and then write a short essay on the ways it was influenced by the historical context and/ or zeitgeist of the time. It was really interesting to have a better understanding of which artists or pieces spoke to the students.

  4. Vibhav Nanda says:

    Hi! You have wonderfully worded your blog. I think that only the “how” can be taught, and “why” comes from within the learner. I started doing some research after reading your post and came across this concept (4 stages of competence) which I thought was very interesting: .

    • corrie says:

      Thanks for sharing the link. For me, and perhaps it’s just a pipe dream, I would like to do more than instill “the basics” as Langer describes them into students, I want competence+. Students of today need to be equipped for an uncertain future by broadening and customizing their opportunities for learning and growth.
      I find myself asking the question, what makes teachers coherent, effective, and innovative? Currently my focus has been on ways to create a positive classroom culture and discovering methods that can help students articulate their motivations thereby equipping them for the “real world.”

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