Q16: Learning,Forgetting, Re-Learning...

Question: How do you know you have learned something? 

You definitely have not learned something just because you did well on an academic style exam which 'tested' your knowledge of the subject.  Beyond that, this question is ridiculously hard to answer.  A subject of philosophers and educational academics throughout the ages...

Broadly, just to offer some thoughts on the subject, I think you need to ask what it is you are trying to learn.  Is it an applied life-skill?  A fine-motor skill? A piece of information? An equation or a formula? What?  Because in each of these different cases, having learned that something will look different.  

If it is a piece of information, you have learned, or at least learned of it, the first time you come across it.  If your asking how you know when you will remember it, that's highly individual.  I know I will remember something if I repeat it enough, or if it had a major impact on my life, or if it is a piece of information that is so completely useless that to not remember it would be absurd.  

If it is a formula or an equation, then frequent 'testing' in the sense of seeing if you still know it ought to tell you when you remember it.  To know if you have learned it you should do two things: be able to manipulate it, and be able to explain it in simple terms. 

But I think the question probably has life lessons, faith issues, and applicable skills in mind.  That is where it all falls apart.  As I shared in this post, I thought I knew about organizational change, but then I found out how wrong I was.  So when did I learn it? When I had the head knowledge?  When I had some experience? Or have I still not learned those lessons?  I know I will make mistakes again in the future in this area... does that mean I haven't learned this stuff? 

If you are asking when you know you will not make that mistake again, or when you will finally understand issue/person X, then I am going to go with... never.  You will always make mistakes again.  That confusing person will not suddenly become clear; even if you get to a point you think you understand them, they will change.  

One of my favorite concepts, which seems to be nearly universally applicable, is that of the hermeneutical spiral (ok, not really universal application, but it comes up a lot).  Hermeneutics is the art of interpretation.  As a word it is used particularly of understanding biblical, and ancient, texts.  However, the idea of the spiral can be easily broadened.  

Let me explain it in brief.  When we approach a subject (no matter the nature of the subject), we do so with a pre-understanding.  We come with already formulated ideas and beliefs.  Then, we interact with the subject on the basis of that pre-understanding. As we do so our understanding is altered, which allows us to come to a deeper understanding.  Lather, rinse, repeat. 

This process continues and we spiral towards the ever elusive 'true understanding' (which, philosophically speaking, we never quite reach).  You can add words like dialogue, experience, and practice to this process, but I think you get the idea.  

Incidentally, discovering this about your spouse is one of the things which makes marriage such a fun and amazing experience; there is always more to learn, more to know, more to understand.  Of course it also opens the door to ever new stupid mistakes, but that's OK.  For Kristina, to get to know her better and love her more, I would taste foot every day!

So, we spiral towards the truth.  You can picture it as a journey spiraling up to the top of a mountain, it's misty heights lost in a fantasy landscape far above your heard.  Or, you could picture it as a being flushed down the world's biggest toilet.  Personally, I would go with the former. 

1 comment:

PakG1 said...

Alexander Pope! :)