Concepts and Experience


When it comes to learning new things, there are a lot of things which we assume are already there, based on which new learning can be generated. These things come from experience which builds the context which is important for learning.

Try explaining something to a child and you will understand. The other day i was trying to explain to my son the concept of something which we assume to be simple … existing. The sentence i was trying to explain to him was:

James Watt improved the existing steam engine.

This is a simple sentence by itself. But try explaining this to a 7 year old and you will understand what i am talking about. What is existing? Without knowing the concept of the flow of time its quite difficult to understand the concept of existing. So i had to tell a story, one which took an example to explain the idea of something existing. This brings out two things. One, that without the context of the flow of time it is quite difficult to explain the idea of existing which leads to the further understanding that context is something which is very important to learning and that this context comes from experience.

Let me explain the context coming from experience idea. I was having a discussion with my colleague and friend Pushpanjali about how one can explain the idea of changing seasons to someone who has never experienced the seasons. Or, not to take something like this, how do we explain the concept of change to someone? From the discussion that came, it became clear that either one can define change by using other words which basically mean change (in which we are using change to describe change, which is not the appropriate way to explain a concept which is new) or we explain change through examples.

In fact, this is what the teachers at son’s school are doing. They are learning about change, and the way it is applied to modes of transport, through examples. So, for example, sonny understands that when he was small he Mama used to feed him, but now he eats on his own (well, well … some other time, maybe). This example is quite useful in explaining the idea of change because here, he is using his own experience of change and relating the definition to this experience. Whats important to understand is that it is this experiential aspect of learning which is important to understanding the concept. Well, the story i told him wasnt exactly correct, but it illustrated the point and thats whats important.

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