Passive Learning

Posted 6 months, 4 weeks ago | Originally written on 1 Feb 2008

Extreme frustration!!! I'm not making any headway in French. i can't put my finger on what I have learned at the end of every class. So, what's the point? There has to be a better way... or no way at all!

I think the human mind is amazing in the sense that it cannot be instructed based on rules - it builds the rules from information. The best way, then, to learn is to subject it to as much information as possible that is based on some rules: the more and more interesting, the greater the learning effect.

This is a Natural Law.

I know that I want to be better but I'm weak. But I must keep trying...I cannot accept another to determine my fate.

I think the cure for an inquisitive mind is Passive Learning.

Passive Learning is a [generally self-induced] learning method by which the mind is subjected to a lot of information that is based on certain rules. The rules are never explicitly mentioned but may be explicitly identified by the learner. The best context of application is in solving real-life problems that, while simultaneously providing an intellectual kick, provide the implicit rules of the subject under study.

I have very successfully (and I mean successfully) used it to learn mathematics and other fields that required me to make use of my mind as a tool not just as a repository of knowledge. In mathematics, the trick to mastery is simply achieved in the following steps:

  1. Understand the basic concept literally
  2. See how to use the concept in an imaginary problem
  3. Independently solve an imaginary problem, liberally making reference
  4. Independently solve many (very many) real-life problems

For 1 above, I say literally because there might be underlying material that you have not yet mastered. Ideally, you should take the above steps for any prerequisite that you have not yet mastered and do so, as well, for any prerequisite for the prerequisite. Doing so leads to more solid knowledge as you can tell all the whys and wherefores. However, you might be in a situation where you do not have time (like you have not been reading as you should have!) in which case you will just have to accept some concepts by faith.

The alternative to Passive Learning is what most language schools do: they go through a text book and show you all the rules of the language that you can't as yet even communicate in. I distinctly remember learning the rules of English after I could communicate in English. In fact, I dare say that learning the syntactic rules aided in improving my use of English (I like rules anyway!) You see, a language is a skill, not just a set of facts. Skills are used to express thought and creativity as opposed to knowledge which is static. Acquiring a skill requires more practice than rules. By teaching a new language with rules you are subjecting the mind to double work: first, is the necessary step of generating the idea you want to express, and second is building the syntactically correct sentence based on the rules that you know so far. It would be infinitely easier to somehow learn, from interaction, little blocks of the language and, from experience with the language, to simply map ideas onto sentences. The more one learns little blocks the better they get. Only after they can communicate can they learn the rules to govern the already existing language skill.

One of the most successful Passive Learning methods is that employed by The Rosetta Stone application. They call it Dynamic Immersion. You only need to learn how to use the application, which is pretty straight forward. Beyond that you will learn the language without ever facing any rules. You are repeatedly subjected to knowledge based on images and sound and you then pick verbs, nouns and tenses among other language constructs. After you have made some headway you can then learn the rules and apply them to what you already know.

Ultimately, I think one of the key ingredients into making Passive Learning a great success is self-induction. The student must come willingly and control the learning process. If the student is forced, it might achieve very little. It then becomes very easy to demonstrate that the intersection of a willing learner and a natural learning method will make evident what Man has always known - that the human mind is truly amazing!