Ingredients of Learning

When we are in school, we have all the ingredients needed for learning. The teacher, the text book, the class time are supplied. The homework (practice) and tests (evaluation) are there, too. The grades, peer pressure or parental expectations also serve as rewards or punishment, as motivation. But these are only some of the ingredients needed. Actually at least 15 ingredients are needed for learning, but many are unrecognized. This isn’t a problem in most classrooms because the teacher arranges or creates the other ingredients. But when people try to learn on their own, they often forget or lack one or more of the needed ingredients. The result is either no learning, slow learning or only partial learning.

Superprograms are designed to help you re-gather all needed ingredients. A major ingredient is the ongoing personal support, the ongoing structure to keep making efforts. With it comes the expectation that you use the methods. Expectation is one unrecognized ingredient of learning that is very powerful. There is a true story of a teacher who at the beginning of the year was told that she was given one class of above-average learners and one class of below-average learners. She got them mixed up and the result was that, at the end of the year, on standardized tests the below-average learners scored high, and the above-average learners scored lower — They were hindered by her expectations.

It may seem simple, even trite, to say that you can’t learn without the needed ingredients, just as you can’t make a very good cake if you leave out even one ingredient. But it can not only waste you time to try to learn without all needed ingredients, it will probably lower your self-esteem — because of the repeated failure to learn. Think about that. Maybe it’s already happened to you. If so, it can be repaired by consistently and consciously re-gathering all needed ingredients before you attempt to learn something. That’s why the Ingredients of Learning questions are an explicit part of superprograms. That’s one of the things that make superprograms a powerful and brand-new category of educations structures.

Here’s the list of ingredients. You can use this as a checklist. Note that in some cases other ingredients are needed, and some of these ingredients may not be absolutely necessary, but nevertheless very helpful.

1.  The information or skill to be learned (that is, accurate information or adequate method)

2.  Exercises or homework to actively practice the new learning.

3.  Review to anchor the learning in memory.  (See this article on spaced repetition.)

4.  Previous learning or context.   (For example, If you can’t read, then a textbook is useless.)

5.  Rewards or punishment that are meaningful to the learner.

6.  A belief that you can learn the particular content.  (Some people have mental blocks that prevent them from learning particular subjects.)

7.  Proper mood  (not too excited or too emotional)

8.  Attention or focus.

9.  Freedom from distractions  (Schools often offer a clear desktop.  Homes or offices are often full of distractions.)

10.  A belief (or a demonstration) that you don’t already know something.  For instance, you can’t teach listening skills to someone who thinks they’re already a very good listener.  They may not show up or pay enough attention.

11.  A hospitable learning environment:  Not too cold, too hot, or too noisy.  Safe.

12.  Evaluation against some standard.  (The testing.)

13.  Feedback  (Imagine doing homework without it being corrected by the teacher.)

14. Time (for the initial learning and enough time for the practice and reviews.)

15.  A fully capable brain (mental illness, learning disabilities or drugs may impair or prevent learning.)  Some people may not have the capacity to learn quantum physics, or dancing.

16.  For complex learning, a logical or organized learning sequence.

17.  Encouragement or affirmation     (May be optional.)

18.  An expectation to learn or change  (May be considered optional in some cases.)

19.  Demonstration, in some cases.  (Imagine trying to learn a dance without demonstration.)

20.  Faith or confidence in the quality of the content or teacher or method. A belief that the content and teacher are adequate.

21. Harmonization with self-image or social roles, and relevance.  (Mother Teresa probably would have had difficulty learning and retaining ninja instant-death techniques.)

22.  An understanding of all the practical applications.  (For instance, you could learn the Many-One-New method, and not realize that it could also be useful for leading a group to achieve a goal or solve a problem. Your learning would not be complete.)

23.  An understanding of the limits, improper or irrelevant uses of the learning. (This is the flip-side of applications; the situations where the learning doesn’t apply.)

24.  In some cases, some material objects are needed. You can’t learn to sew without actual fabric. You can’t easily learn to fly without a plane or helicopter.

25. Sometimes a special kind of objectivity or insight is needed. Certain situations create learning impasses. You might be unable to learn something, but also unable to identify why or what the missing ingredient is. It might be that you are mis-representing the situation. The story is told of a man who wore a beautiful robe but had a poor sense of smell and slept on a bed of onions. People seemed to avoid him, and he tried to educate them about the taste and elegance in the design of his robe. But they didn’t seem to appreciate him or his robe. Only if someone points out that the way he smells is the missing factor will he grasp what he needs to learn or change. — In some cases you might benefit from an outside opinion. “Phone a friend.”

How to Use the Checklist

Your first “Ingredients of Learning” task is to check to determine whether or not you have “re-gathered” all the needed ingredients for your particular learning situation. If you haven’t, your second task is to get the missing ingredient(s). Perhaps you can pay for it. Perhaps you can just ask for it.  Or maybe you can exchange or barter to get the needed expertise or material.

A third and related task is to consider whether or not there are unwanted ingredients or contaminants. Returning to the analogy of making a cake, you can ruin a cake in three ways: failing to supply all needed ingredients; adding things that don’t belong their and spoil the quality; and using the wrong process, such as baking too little or too long. Think of learning in the same way. So a fourth task is to consider the process and how it’s organized.

Imagine the great increase in humanity’s ability to learn and change if superprograms are spread, and this knowledge of ingredients needed for learning is spread with it. It could dramatically increase people’s ability to adapt to rapid change and also address a variety of problems and crises.

It’s possible that we may have missed some ingredients. Please comment if you can
think of any more ingredients for learning and change!


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