Making learning intuitive: A brief look at different ways of learning

When I was in secondary school, I had a Chinese language tutor. My Chinese language grades were weak, and in particular I wasn’t good at the composition component. My tutor’s solution was to make me memorise a number of different composition openings and conclusions that she felt would cover almost any topic. Week in and week out, it was extremely heavy memorisation, and a fairly painful process.

The crazy thing though, was that to some extent, it worked – I managed to score an A1 for my examinations. Yet, if you asked me to hold a conversation in Mandarin, I would absolutely flounder. If I was made to retake the examinations 2 months later, it would have turned out terribly. I can no longer remember any of the 15 openings I was made to memorise.

When I got my first job later in life, I was sent on an overseas attachment to Beijing, for about 6 months. It was immersive. From simple daily things such as ordering bubble tea, to my actual work, which involved reviewing documents in Mandarin, I was exposed to the language in a way that connected the words to actual experiences and ideas. It was challenging, but never a struggle or a chore. I definitely enjoyed my time in Beijing, and the experience gave me something that memorisation could not – a lasting sense of confidence in my Mandarin speaking ability.

My experience isn’t unique – I’ve had more than a few peers with similar experiences, and to me it highlights the difference between different ways of learning. The first is rote memorisation, whilst the second is a mix between intuitive and experiential learning.

What is intuitive learning and how does it differ from other ways of learning?

There are, of course, different approaches to learning. Some common ways of learning include:

  1. Rote memorisation: Rote memorisation involves repeating information over and over again until it is committed to memory. This approach is often used for simple or factual information, and is a relatively straightforward and mechanical way of learning.
  2. Intuitive learning: Intuitive learning involves the use of abstract ideas and concepts where learners are challenged to identify connections and possibilities between patterns and ideas. In this form of learning, learners like discovering possibilities and relationships and working with ideas. Learners have to rely on their ability to think creatively and critically.
  3. Experiential learning: Experiential learning involves learning through direct experience or hands-on activities. This approach is often used in practical or vocational subjects, and involves actively doing or creating something in order to learn.
  4. Social learning: Social learning involves learning through observation and imitation of others. This approach is often used in fields such as psychology, and involves studying the behaviour and interactions of others in order to understand and learn from them.

Intuitive learning, in particular, works when educators structure learning units in such a way whereby learners are exposed to the big picture, which eventually clarifies the connection between ideas and concepts, thereby allowing the learners to see the connection. It is a form of learning that relies on our natural ability to make connections between ideas and experiences, rather than on direct instruction or sequential analysis. This type of learning can be contrasted with sequential learning, which involves more conscious, systematic, and logical processes. Intuitive learning is often seen as a more natural and holistic approach to learning, and is believed to be particularly useful for complex or abstract concepts.

There has been a significant amount of research done on intuitive learning. Many studies have explored the role of intuition in various cognitive processes, such as decision-making, problem-solving, and creativity. Some research has also focused on the neural mechanisms underlying intuitive learning, and on how it differs from more analytic forms of learning.

Incorporating intuitive learning in a classroom setting

There are also many different approaches to teaching. One might be familiar with approaches such as:

  1. Traditional or lecture-based teaching, in which the teacher presents information to the students, who then learn through listening and taking notes.
  2. Inquiry-based learning, in which students are encouraged to explore and discover information on their own, through hands-on activities and investigations.
  3. Project-based learning, in which students learn by working on real-world projects that require them to apply their knowledge and skills.
  4. Collaborative learning, in which students work together in small groups to solve problems and complete assignments.

Intuitive learning can be a valuable component of many different approaches. For example, in inquiry-based learning, which involves hands-on exploration and discovery. By allowing students to explore and investigate the world around them, teachers can help them develop their natural curiosity and creativity, and encourage them to make connections between different ideas and experiences.

Project-based learning is another educational approach that can support intuitive learning. By giving students the opportunity to work on real-world projects that require them to apply their knowledge and skills, teachers can help them develop their ability to think critically and creatively, and to solve complex problems.

Collaborative learning, in which students work together in small groups, can also be a valuable way to facilitate intuitive learning. By allowing students to share their ideas and perspectives, and to support and challenge each other, teachers can help them develop their ability to think flexibly and holistically, and to make connections between different ideas and experiences.

Finally, the most common and traditional approach – lecture-based teaching. Intuitive learning has not typically been the focus of lecture-based teaching, but it can be incorporated and built into this type of instruction. Lecture-based teaching typically involves the teacher presenting information to the students, who then learn through listening and taking notes. While this approach does not typically involve hands-on exploration or collaboration, it can provide opportunities for intuitive learning.

For example, a teacher could incorporate examples and anecdotes into their lectures in order to help students make connections between the material and their own experiences. They could also encourage students to ask questions and discuss the material with their peers, in order to stimulate their natural curiosity and creativity. Additionally, the teacher could provide opportunities for students to apply the information they have learned in real-world contexts, in order to develop their ability to think critically and creatively.

A further, and important step of this process is incorporating elements of intuitive learning into the curriculum, including worksheets and materials. Without conscious design, worksheets would not typically provide opportunities for students to explore, discover, or apply new knowledge in a meaningful way, particularly if they simply involve students completing a series of exercises or problems without context or explanation.

In order to incorporate intuitive learning into worksheets, a teacher needs to provide additional information or context that helps students make connections between the material and their own experiences. A worksheet on fractions could include real-world examples of how fractions are used in everyday life, or could ask students to apply their knowledge of fractions to solve a problem. In composition writing, we can tap on students’ everyday experiences – what they see around them, and their own sense of values and motivations, in crafting narratives that reflect what their beliefs and values. This can help students see the relevance and value of the material, and can stimulate their natural curiosity and creativity.

The Ending Note

With all that has been said, it must be noted that the different ways of learning are not intrinsically better than each other. The best approach to learning does depends on the individual student, the subject being studied, and the context. Nor are these ways mutually exclusive – it can be beneficial to combine memorisation with intuitive learning in order to support student learning. For instance, a teacher might use memorisation to help students quickly acquire basic information, such as vocabulary words or mathematical formulas. This can provide a foundation for more in-depth learning, and can make it easier for students to understand and retain more complex ideas.

Once students have mastered the basic information, the teacher can then use activities and exercises that promote intuitive learning. This could include problem-based learning, case studies, hands-on experiments, or other activities that engage students’ natural curiosity and creativity. By providing opportunities for students to explore, discover, and apply new knowledge, the teacher can help students develop their ability to think critically, creatively, and holistically.

Overall, combining different approaches can provide a well-rounded approach to learning. In the end, the main objective of an educator should always be to find the best ways to support students in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

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