Can you become a competent athlete by only hearing someone tell you about the sport?

Learning only occurs at the intersection between a text and a reader, or between a lecture and an audience. In a comment on an earlier post, Shannon notes,

[T]ext is sometimes seen as a time waster if it requires a close study, “why didn’t the author just make it simpler to understand?”. Students want key concepts pulled out for them so they can pass the test, why should they bother pulling it when a prof can do it much more easily?

This is something about students’ perceptions that I didn’t fully understand, so I’m really thankful that Shannon brought it to our attention.

Students need to understand that learning isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something you have to engage with to occur. Can you become a competent athlete by merely hearing about how to do the sport, or is it necessary to practice? Can you excel at a sport without practicing it?

Learning happens only as a function of the engagement between the student and the stimulus. The stimulus could be a text, a lecture, a video, a piece of art or music or other visual image. If there’s no engagement, there will be no learning. Think: the student who sleeps thru the lecture. If there’s little engagement, there will be little learning. Think: the lecture which fails to capture the student’s attention, as in the video snippet which Gardner showed at the FSEM Faculty Development workshop last week. Just as you have to chew a scholarly text or process your lecture notes, to really learn something you have to study it closely.

If students aren’t getting this message, and it seems that they’re not, what can instructors do to change this? Could it be as simple as stating it clearly in class, for example, in a first year seminar? Would students believe it? Can anyone suggest other ideas?

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2 Responses to Can you become a competent athlete by only hearing someone tell you about the sport?

  1. Shannon says:

    I think a lot of this boils down to whether it is worth learning or not. Students might even understand that in order to learn something they need take a closer look but, again the question of “what is the point?”. It probably does vary from class to class this sort of attitude. I imagine it occurs more in classes that are taken to fulfill a gen-ed but, not as much in upper-level classes and you can correct me if I am wrong on that. How do you show students that a class is not just a waste of mental space? Perhaps it is too much of a daunting task (or so it seems) and students are not sure where to even start, how much should be learned? How do they pull out the crucial pieces? What is the value of learning the material?

  2. Pingback: Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching » Blog Archive » Is College Supposed to Be Education or Training?

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