For a while, I have been thinking about my own learning process. As everyone has a unique character, it can change person to person, but “learning” for me is generally about the logic of “no pain, no gain.” Every time when I study, I tend to jump the conclusion, main ideas, or arguments to get it done. And, what if I have been studying mindlessly?
As opposed to my struggle inside my mind, in her book “The Power of Mindful Learning,” Ellen J. Langer as a psychologist is talking about kind of gain without pain type of learning through, what she calls, “mindful learning.” It is sort of “studying on your headspace.” Indeed, she uses this term quite different from, what we got used to knowing, meditation. For Langer, mindfulness is about openness to wider possibilities or sort of a cognitive recognition of possibilities or alternatives at the time we learn; for instance, it involves awareness and broadened attention. She defines the term and compares it with “mindlessness” as such
A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continues creation of new categories; openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective. Mindlessness, in contrast, is characterized by entrapment in old categories; by automatic behavior that precludes attending to new signals; and by action that operates from a single perspective. (p. 4)
To overcome mindlessness in learning and teaching, she proposes “sideways learning” by maintaining a mindful state, which she explains
Sideways learning aims at maintaining a mindful state. As we saw, the concept of mindfulness revolves around certain psychological states that are really different versions of the same thing: (1) openness to novelty; (2) alertness to distinction; (3) sensitivity to different contexts; (4) implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and (5) orientation in the present. Each leads to the others and back to itself Learning a subject or skill with an openness to novelty and actively noticing differences, contexts, and perspectives-sideways learning- makes us receptive to changes in an ongoing situation. In such a state of mind, basic skills and information guide our behavior in the present, rather than run it like a computer program. (p. 23)
Her alternative learning method pushed me to make some self-reflection. I am more inclined to jump to the conclusion of any book or article, by only getting its main arguments-methods etc., rather than really getting into it. Honestly, this has been my way of survival in academia given the assigned tons of readings, as if everyone is able to internalize all those readings. However, this kind of psychological awareness has great potential to enable deeper involvement, concentration, and more importantly being “at present” in learning as well as teaching. From another side of the coin, Langer also shows that how alarming traditional learning techniques restrain creativity due to memorization and repetitive practices to master the theories or concepts. This culture of teaching and subsequent learning technique of the students only deepens being an “auto” pilot, what Langer calls, “mindfulness.”
Undoubtedly, I really appreciated the idea of “sideways learning” and the way how Langer sheds lights on our alarming reality about learning and teaching…