learning with, or without a goal LO28885

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 07/23/02

Replying to LO28854 --

Dear Organlearners,

Terje Tonsberg <tatonsberg@hotmail.com> writes:

>At, what I meant was how does one do it with regards
>to learning the vocabulary of a foreign language, not how
>one derives new words. I think this is an important
>example because of the lack of connectivity and the
>sheer mass needed (e.g. 30,000.) The temptation to fall
>back on rote learning is enormous. I have some idea from
>my experience, but I would like to know what your thoughts
>are, both from a learner and teacher point of view. I think
>I would be able to pick up some important cues from your
>answer on this special case, because an experience with
>language learning is something we both share (unlike the
>hard sciences.)

Greetings dear Terje,

I learn the vocabulary of a langauge by reading texts in that language. As
soon as i come to a word which i do not know, i will look up its meaning
in a dictionary. My dictionaries have the most wear and tear of all my

As for writing in English itself, i have this curious awareness that i
will stumble on some tacit knowing. I will write several sentences,
knowing exactly what i want to do. Then suddenly i reach a sentence giving
me the "goose flesh" while writing it. As i jot the words down, i know
that at some point in that sentence i will not know the word which i need.
Coming to that point, i have to rethink the whole paragraph again in
Afrikaans. I will usually find a word, but if not, i will create one out
of the context. Afterwards i look up in the Afrikaans-English dictionary
for a clue to the English word. Then comes the hunt for the word
expressing precisely what i had in mind. I look for synonyms and study the
meaning of each. Invariably my vocabulary increases by doing so.
Eventually i have to settle for the best word.

The study of the eytmology of words (English and German) have become very
important to me to understand the present meaning of a word and thus to
remember it. It is the same as knowing the botanical names of thousands of
succulent plants. These names are created in terms of Latin or Greek. Once
i have traced the meaning of the Latin or Greek, i remember these names
far better and also learn a little bit more of Latin and Greek itself. For
example, the name of the genus Pachypodium consists of "pachy"=big and
"podium"=pedestal. These plants have indeed a "big body" upon which the
branches grow.

>Actually much of what you say is like reading about
>generative instruction and precision teaching, but with
>a different paradigm. Theirs is teaching oriented, yours
>is inner world oriented.

Make no mistake, my original training as a teacher was also teaching
orientated. Unfortunately, I hanged far too long on that paradigm. I
should have known better. During my training I not only studied the
compulsory material, but also browsed through a lot of books not
prescribed. Sadly, most of those books were also teaching orientated
because of those who stocked the library with them. So when i stepped into
the class room, i was in for a great surprise. Teaching as the imput and
learning as the output just did not match as all these books suggested it

Fortunately, i had the gut feeling that learning and creativity were
closely connected. Step by step i began to wean myself from teaching
information by observing the creativity of learners and trying to promote

>Their main role is to define the component skills in
>order to make sure they are adequate for complex
>skills. Only a very mature learner can do something
>like that without a teacher. I like their motto which
>says "the learner knows best," i.e. when the learner's
>performance improvement is not fast enough, they
>blame themselves, not their student (note that this
>could be due to passion, inadequate fluency in a
>sub-skill, or any other reason.)

This description fits my own thinking when, after teaching pupils for four
years, I bgan to work at CEFT (College of Education for Further Training).
Here i had the opportunity to work with teachers, some with many years of
experience. I soon began, for their benefit, transform each learning event
(the first loop of double loop learning) into a teaching event (the second
loop of double loop learning). I became fluent in doing it. So when I
began working at the university, I tried to do the same with university
students. I had to alter my strategy somewhat because they had no teaching
experience. But in the main aspect it stayed the same -- teach yourself
how to learn by studying your own learning.

>The term apparently comes from an amusing incident
>at which Skinner was told by a researcher that a rat
>that had been taught to make amazing jumps suddenly
>stopped responding to reinforcement. It didn't jump
>when signalled that reinforcement was available.
>Apparently Skinner answered "Well, I guess the rat
>knows best."
>At said:
>> I will now refer to the performance curve (Figure 3)
>> < http://www.learning-org.com/graphics/LO27588_curveper.gif >
>This looks exactly like Skinners cumulative frequency chart.
>Too bad his megalomania generated so much "camp" or
>even cultish thinking and strawman exchanges. He had many
>important ideas.

I will always think of Skinner as someone very sensitive to the
essentiality liveness ("becoming-being").

But you mention another thing which goes deeply to the heart of learning,
namely "cultish thinking and strawman exchanges". It is not peculiar to
Skinner because of his personality. It is something which occurs in every
branch of academy known as a "school of thought". The worst is when two
"schools of thought" begin to oppose each other destructively so that no
learning results from it. It is here where the impairing of one or more of
the 7Es (seven essentialities of creativity) becames painfully clear.

>>From your description it looks to me that the essentialities
>>sureness and fruitfulness played the crucial role in your
>>emergence to a new level of understanding. But it is for
>>you to say what actually happened. I would be very glad
>>to read how you see it.
>Thanks for asking. I agree that it was a case of sureness
>and fruitfulness, but the strange thing was that it was not

You have said something very, very important with "it was not planned". I
cannot plan for an emergence in learning in the sense that I do not know
how to predict exactly what will emerge. But there are conditions which
have to be met before an emergence will happen. I definitely plan for such
conditions to be met with. I distinguish netween necessary conditions and
sufficiency conditions. (By the way, this is something which I first
learned in mathematics at university. But nobody told me that the Arabs
were the first to discover this important distinction.)

The sufficiency conditions for an emergence in learning are the 7Es. To
understand somebody else is an example of emergent learning which deals
with information rather than events. When i fail to understand another
person, i take the 7Es one by one and try to find the one which i
neglected, using the same body of information. It usually works. But if
this does not work, i simply ask for more information.

>True, if I had consciously applied the 7Es here, I could
>have detected the relation earlier, but the point is that
>fluency seems to have a direct effect on emergences.
>I mean, the emergence happened here without any
>conscious analysis/synthesis/logic.... It just popped into
>my mind. It felt strange, especially because I had never
>practiced, except doing some callisthenics, using a fluency
>aim before.

I am beginning to wonder whether its is not liveness ("becoming -being")
which played the key role here, and not sureness or fruitfulness. It often
happened to me that i got stuck in complex structures. But by moving my
eyes form part to part in such a structure and keep on doing it, I began
to perceive a movie leading to that picture. Usually i will then have this
"popped" experience of yours.

>Perhaps what happens is that the free energy needed
>to do the repetitions is reduced as one gains fluency,
>so that other processing takes place at a less conscious
>level regarding the task one is performing? What I feel
>sure about is that fluency facilitates understanding and
>it facilitates applying the 7Es.

There is something else too. Many sport persons who try to reach the upper
level get what is called a "sport injury" typical to that sport. It is
most interesting that "sport injuiries" becomes less in going from a
"monothlon", triathlone, pentathlon to decathlon athletes. I think that
the reason is that the athlete becomes better exposed to all 7Es during

Likewise I have observed too many "learning injuries" when a monotonous
repetition of a mental skill is practised. This usually leads to a Mental
Model on that skill, preventing its subsequent use in a more complex
skill. That is why I always will suggest employing as much of the 7Es as
possible when practising a skill for better performance. The reduction of
"learning injuries" is a great benefit, apart from reducing the time
needed to reach a certain level of performance.

>> I am not arguing against fluency completely. But i
>> wonder whether the passion is derived from the
>> fluency or the actual understanding.
>I think that both are important, but fluency is not an
>aim in itself. The fluency issue is a short term or periodic
>intervention to get the fluency that is needed for the
>understanding that maintains, or helps one reach,
>the source of lasting passion. It is a surgical operation
>to remove blocks to passion.

OK, now i am with you. As for myself, i am too much aware that my own
passions are derived from my mental emergences. Perhaps I have been too
deeply entrenched in the physical sciences in which the distinction
between structures and processes has become vital to understand them. This
implicit liveness ("becoming"=processes -- "being"=structures) may make it
difficult for me to understand how important fluency is in understanding
other subjects.

>Actually, those who practice this call themselves
>Precision Teachers, and they have a large network
>of practitioners who share experiences on such

Thank you for telling us so much about Precision Teaching. I am ashamed to
admit that i have never heard of it before. As soon as i have time
available, i intend to explore it further.

One thing which excited me very much in your descriptions, is the stress
on the passion for learning. Whereas the 7Es are the sufficiency
conditions for learning, this passion is one of the necessary conditions.
To deny a person's emergent learning is to strangle that person's passion
resulting from it. This is the tragic outcome of rote learning.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@postino.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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