January 2017


When I saw the word “mindfulness”, I thought of something spiritual, such as yoga and meditation. “How mindfulness can be used in study? Does it mean that we need to be very concentrated on the learning process and ignore everything else?” With these questions, I started to read the papers about mindful learning. According to Ellen Langer (2016),

 “A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continous creation of new categories, openness to new information and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.”


A reflection of my learning habits makes me realize how a mindless learner I am. For example, when I plan to learn a new skill, such as how to create a poster. I often look for some detailed instructions or templates and try to follow the listed steps carefully. In a class, I often take notes of what the instructor says without thinking, and do the same when I read a book or literature. Why this happens? I think although mindless learning is a universal problem in the world, it becomes even worse due to the education system in China. Since good education resources are very scare there, given its large population, standardized tests dominate students’ life after kindergarten. Learning becomes a tool to pass the tests, which only have one or a few sets of “correct” answers. Although I may be a successor in that education system, my mindless learning habits limits the further development.

Source: http://www.portlandfamily.com/posts/the-montessori-approach-promoting-mindful-learning/

Source: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/07/08/420559529/unveiling-how-standardized-tests-are-scored

As a future instructor, I wonder how my students can avoid the same experience I had and how to get rid of this habit. I hear about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule—it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.  However, only a few people can achieve this because most of our students get bored soon before the first 100 hours. What needed in addition to the 10000 hour,  in my opinion, are continuous changes of approaches and thinking about the alternative ways. This requires the instructor to be a life-long learner, who is brave enough to try something new and face the risk of failure. Also, the assessment in education system should change in order to encourage mindful teaching and learning. If there is a lack of creative questions in the tests, student may still prefer instructions written in absolute terms and memorize materials. In a general sense, a key of mindfulness is realizing what you are doing, just like you do this as the first time.  This is true as Heraclitus said “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. To improve mindfulness, we also need to realize the subtle differences between situations and people, and to become a good perpetrator of mindlessness.



  1. Langer, Ellen J. The power of mindful learning. Da Capo Press, 2016.
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  • Catherine Einstein

    I like that you put it on the instructor and not just the student to think mindfully. Sometimes professors and teachers forget that they should still be open to new ways of thinking and open to learning. However, do you think “mindless” learning has its place in education? Were there any instances in China where you found that the standardized learning was helpful?

    • Ruoding Shi

      Yes, I agree with you that professors and teachers are also mindless teaching. In China, standardized learning may not have direct benefit to students but regarding the corresponding standardized tests, they do help the children in poor families to compete with students in rich families. Because the answer to a standard question is either right or wrong and nobody can alter it by his power or money. Without standardized tests, the selection outcomes are very likely to prefer students with powerful and rich parents.

  • Jyotsana

    Ruoding, I totally understand what you mean. The educational system and how things work in some of the countries in Asia go opposite to what Langer is saying. For me, personally, competition at every level was the enemy to my performance. But as upcoming educators, it is our responsibility, whether we continue in USA or go back home, to continue the trends of new pedagogical practices that may be helpful for learning and creativity instead of shutting it down, like some of us have experiences with our educational systems.

    • Ruoding Shi

      Thanks Jyotsana! I think although we may not be strong enough to change the education system, we still can influence our students as a good instructor!

  • Kyriakos Tsoukalas

    Mindfulness is both the problem and solution. The question is the focus of mind power during an activity. Is it gathered on one activity or is it scattered in many different activities? I agree with you that standard test create the habit of focusing on passing a test by demonstrating memorized knowledge rather than creating knowledge to apply it, update and deepen our understanding of it.

    • Ruoding Shi

      Thanks! I think we have a long way to improve the assessment and encourage students’ creativity.

  • socl123

    I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers – from which the 10,000 hour rule was initially introduced! I remember reading outliers in undergrad thinking my goodness that’s impossible! But, when I read the text I was in a field that was not interesting or intriguing to me. Towards the end of my degree I found my passion in sociology (specifically race and social policy) and the 10,000 hour things was no longer something I was even considering because I enjoyed the intellectual work I was doing so much that the extensive amount of time dedicated to learning and developing accrued without me taking notice.

    My point is that I think mindless learning is best disrupted when students are able to connect the work to their own interests or find a way to allow the class to be an extension of whatever field is a best fit for them. I think one way US colleges fail is by not allowing students enough time, space or opportunities to figure out what they are good at and how to make it into a career with financial stability (because happy employees are the best employees!)

    • Ruoding Shi

      Thank you very much for sharing your life experience! I’m glad that you find something that you really love to do. I’m not as lucky as you, since sometimes I feel what I learned is so difficult or boring. Do you think interest should go ahead of mindfulness learning or mindfulness can generate interest of learning?

  • Thanks for your selfless act of caring and sharing. I have been practicing Mindfulness/Yoga with nursing students about 3 years now and using nursing language whenever possible to reinforce their academic studies. In every instance I received positive feedback from the students and other professors in our program. Plan to someday formalize what I do!

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