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Archive for the ‘Science of Education’ Category

As this module comes to an end, Jesse has asked us to write a blog on what we have learned from this module.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that the education system is in dire need of repair. This generation of learners are being taught, but not educated. We are taught skills that are poor at adapting to new situations, such as memorisation and regurgitation of information. We are not taught how to think for ourselves, but how to tick boxes and attain grades. Extrinsic motivation strings us along to attain what we are told are achievements in education, but are little more than variations upon the question “How much stuff can you remember?”

Personally, this module has made me look back upon my previous modules. As I re-examined my grades from first and second years, I noticed that I excelled in the subjects I found interesting. I attained incredibly average grades for the subjects that I wasn’t interested in but studied for in order to pass. I’ve never really been consciously aware of how much harder intrinsic motivation has made me work, but throughout this semester I’ve noticed it more than ever. I really do think we should be able to pick our modules for second year rather than having a set course. This would let people actually study what they’ve come to university to study, and actually be enthusiastic about their course rather than complain about it (as I’ve heard many do, including myself).

So, aside from my observations upon intrinsic motivation and how key it is to my learning, what else have I learned? The second thing that springs to mind is that of student centered learning. We have hit a stage of education where we don’t need to be spoon-fed and have our hands held through learning. We are capable of learning for ourselves, and I believe that teachers should exist not to give us information, but to guide us as we find information for ourselves.

I’ve also discovered an entire network of skills that aid us throughout our education. Metacognitive awareness and skills, rational thought, critical thinking, logical thought, confidence, mindfulness, creativity, happiness, cognitive flexibility, deep-level reasoning, and the Socratic method. All of these things tie in to our education and give us a much deeper level of understanding, allowing us to learn about the kinds of concepts which are taught in higher education. We are taught next to none of these throughout our education, and I will be surprised if we ever are. I am glad that I have had the chance to investigate these things, as I would never have had the chance in a module that restricted my learning. I’ve been really interested in each blog I’ve done, and have put quite a lot of work in each one. I hope to use the skills I’ve learned so much about in order to advance my learning throughout my third and final year of my undergraduate degree, and hopefully my masters. This module, above all others that I’ve taken throughout the last sixteen years of education, has let me discover for myself and find new ways to teach myself and advance my own knowledge.

So, there we have it. The state of the education system, intrinsic motivation, student centered learning, and the skills I have investigated for these eight blogs. I feel like I have learned, truly learned, quite a lot throughout this module, and feel that as a learner I have come away much better for the experience.

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Here are two of the four talks I gave throughout our Science of Education module to our class, discussing various concepts that I have spoken about in these blog posts.

My first talk on metacognition and rationality:

The question and answer session from the end of my first talk:

My talk on critical thinking, creativity, and the socratic method:

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Metasynthesis

This module is coming to an end. Its been quite a journey, after I wrote my initial piece on metacognition I was worried that I had jumped the gun and would have little else to write in this subject. How wrong I was.

I’d like to start with a brief overview of everything I’ve written about and how it all ties together to make a nice little package of interacting cognitive processes before I go on to talk about where this can all lead.

My first blog started with the basics: Metacognition and rational thought. Metacognition is the ability to think about thinking and know about knowing. This makes us more rational as we can control our thoughts and make them more organised and coherent, leading to higher level planning and evaluative strategies as well as enable logical thought in our minds.

The second blog introduced confidence and how it ties in with these concepts, mainly metacognition. Confidence in your own knowledge leads to an increase in metacognitive awareness, as by being asked “Are you confident in your answer?” leads us to introspect upon our own knowledge for a moment, and truly determine if we know the answer to a question.

After bringing these core concepts to the table, I devoted my third blog to deep-level reasoning and cognitive flexibility, which enable comprehension and integration of information respectively in a learner as they allow us to map out a subject’s inner workings, what it can and cannot accomplish, its limitations and possibilities. Cognitive flexibility allows us to restructure our knowledge, accommodating for multiple viewpoints, whilst deep-level reasoning allows us to explore hypothetical questions and reasoning within a subject, letting us see where its strengths and weaknesses lie, where it contradicts itself or bests another subject.

From herein, I notice that my blogs are getting longer and longer by the post.

Socrates acts as an inspiration in my fourth blog as I investigated both what our education system attempts to draw from us as well as how creativity and critical thinking aid us in our lives. I criticised the over-use of rote memorisation and argued that we teach people skills with which to learn and adapt rather than memorise as this would aid us throughout our life rather than just for education.

I extended my reach for the next blog, investigating new areas that, whilst distant to my main topic, still had a lot of relevance. Creativity, that skill which is so useful when it comes to cognitive flexibility, is affected by both our personality and our happiness. Open and flexible people seem to be more creative, and one study that investigated their correlation also noted a link between happiness and creativity as well. I linked these back to cognitive flexibility, indicating personality elements that help aid our creativity.

I took a focus upon the real world in my sixth blog. After talking about theory for so long, I wanted to look at how we could implement my findings in the classroom and education system. I believe that metacognition acts as an enabler, enhancing skills such as problem solving and aiding critical thinking, allowing these to operate and flow in our minds. I wrote about how metacognitive skills can be taught, showing that small and simple changes in our education system could help nurture its development in the minds of learners. One such change was asking learners their confidence in giving an answer, whilst others were more bold, looking at changing the classroom from today’s standard in order to increase cognitive flexibility and student centered learning.

My last blog deviated again from my main theme, investigating other areas that metacognition can aid aside from just education. The link between happiness and metacognition was a tenuous one from what I had talked about throughout these blogs (happiness leads to creativity which aids cognitive flexibility. This ties in with deep-level reasoning which is a method that can be used to allow metacognitive awareness of our own cognition, helping us “see” a subject and our thoughts surrounding it.), and I wanted to bring them together. I investigated the concept of mindfulness in order to do this, and found that metacognitive awareness seems to allow us several safeguards against mental illnesses such as depression, as well as raising our self-esteem.

Quite a journey. I never thought I would have packed so much content around the same theme into this many blogs. I’ve definitely enjoyed it, but there’s still one final bit to get to. At the end of this, I need some kind of synthesis. Where has all this been leading up to?

I think the answer to that is a change in the education system, or at least certain areas of it. We have so much knowledge about how our minds work and how we learn, but we rarely ever apply these in the education system. Instead, we opt for inefficient methods that are excellent at teaching en masse and creating learners who are taught basic skills such as memorisation and regurgitation of information. The education system holds a vital and important job. It takes young, fresh minds, mouldable and plastic, and shapes them in ways that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Why should we settle for anything below a high standard?

Enough of my rant towards the education system, because I could go on for a long time.

We are aware of deep-level reasoning and cognitive flexibility, as well as metacognition. These three concepts formed the theme and backbone of everything I have spoken about. I think it is around these three core areas that we must make a focus in the education system. Metacognitive awareness, not skill, can be increased by asking people confidence in their questions, we know this much. After this awareness has been developed, training can be applied in order to move a person from being metacognitively aware to mindful, enabling control and regulation of our thoughts. Student centred learning helps enable intrinsic motivation in learners, which makes us want to apply ourselves and want to learn. We can change the education system to reflect and enhance these methods in a person. Change is scary. People encourage the idea that the current system works. What it does is provide a platform for people to pass through, claiming intelligence at the end as they can remember facts. By changing a class’s style we can enable cognitive flexibility, showing learners how to think for themselves, discover knowledge for themselves, and approach subjects and topics in many ways, utilising critical and flexible thoughts to achieve the best possible representation of the subject and its information in their mind, as well as how it links to all of their other knowledge, activating deep-level reasoning in a person rather than just surface level memorisation. Cognitive flexibility, deep-level reasoning, and metacognition are all obtainable skills. How easily we can introduce them into our system may change for each one, but it is a very possible change. Change is scary, but it is also the future. We will need minds that can learn and think for themselves in order to advance ourselves, both personally and as a collective. I believe that the skills of deep-level reasoning, cognitive flexibility, and metacognition are key for us to become true learners, and are ones that should be taught from a young age and throughout a person’s education in order to ensure that they stay with not just a learner but a person throughout their entire life.

So there we have it. This module has definitely been a journey. I feel as though I’ve had my eyes opened to a lot that is wrong with the education system and a lot that could be right with it. The only place to go on from here is forward, we must inform our tutors and teachers of concepts that we have discovered through this class, and encourage them to incorporate them into their modules in order to make our education one that involves a deep level of intrinsic motivation and understanding from us as learners. I truly feel like I’ve learned a lot from this module, as well as for and from myself. I’ve discovered new information, but have also developed opinions and thoughts as well, which have made this module a real experience for me, one which I have certainly enjoyed.

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As promised in my previous blog, this shall be on the topic of problem solving and creative thinking, how they interact with each other and metacognition. Into this mix, I shall also be talking about how to teach these skills, as well as the ones that support them, which I have been talking about in previous blogs and speeches.

Problem solving is heavily influenced by both metacognition and creative thinking. I shall first discuss metacognition’s influence on problem solving before moving on to creative thinking, and then discuss how to teach these skills to a learner.

Flavell’s original study into metacognition was created because he wanted to see why some people were better at solving puzzles than other people, and he found that those who were metacognitive were better at completing the puzzles. As I said in my first talk, “They could realise that they were trapped in a loop, and so could realise where they were going wrong.”. The reason that they may well have been critical of their own thoughts. A study by Magno in 2010 found that all eight areas of metacognitive skill were significantly related to developing critical thinking. If you can think about your thoughts, it is entirely possible to critique them. Critical thinking is used when we apply skills such as cognitive flexibility, as when we approach a subject from many different styles or understandings, we can weigh up the pros and cons of which approach is most suitable for our needs. This is useful in problem solving, as one can avoid becoming trapped in a loop by being aware of one’s own thoughts, and then one can find another way to approach the puzzle.

Cognitive flexibility is key here. Without metacognition, it would still be possible to approach a puzzle in multiple ways and still solve it. What metacognition does aid however, is creative thinking (Feldhusen, 1995; Feldhusen and Goh, 1995). Metacognition itself can also help aid problem solving (Swanson, 1992), but I believe that it acts as an enabler, allowing a person to control all of their different methods and strategies for problem solving. Cognitive flexibility is improved by accessing nonlinear media, as I have said in previous blogs, as well as by using the Socratic method to teach, as positive hypothesis elimination allows you to determine new ways of accessing information and approaching situations. Happiness, as well as stress reduction, are two other components that help aid creative thinking, as these allow a creative mind to flourish (Pannells and Claxton, 2008), alongside the personality traits of openness and flexibility (Spiro and Jeng, 1990; DeYoung, Peterson, and Higgins, 2005). This creative thinking aids you in being cognitively flexible, especially when approaching puzzles or problems, as it allows you multiple avenues, both tried and tested as well as novel approaches in order to complete your task.

This is a combination of everything I have been writing about over these last blogs, all accumulated here. Everything I have been writing about is interlinked, I do not believe that I have mentioned any single concept without it being linked to the concepts of metacognition, deep-level reasoning, or cognitive flexibility.

The question now, is how do we apply these findings in an education system. I also wish to have some relevance to our current education system, and how these concepts and findings could be implemented within a real world situation. The UK needs a way to teach these skills en masse. I would prefer a world where we can educate each individual through the Socratic method with one-on-one tutoring, however this will simply never happen. I must write and plan for a system that can allow us to teach these key skills to many people at once, as this is the way education is moving.

Metacognitive skills can be taught. Research performed over the past five years at this University (Bangor), has shown that asking a person their confidence in an answer before telling them the answer helps increase metacognitive awareness. Asking them this question allows them to contemplate upon whether or not they truly do know the answer to a question, increasing their awareness of what they both know and do not know. Mood enhancement and stress reduction can also occur through exercise (Berger and Owen, 1988), which are both correlated with creative ideation (Pannells and Claxton, 2008). In these two cases, within the education system, more attention should be focused as to the confidence with which students answer questions. From my own experiences, confidence was only ever measured at a social level in schools, determining whether or not a learner was confident enough to speak up in front of their peers to answer a question etc, yet making sure a learner is confident of their own knowledge will help aid their metacognitive awareness. This can be achieved simply by giving a tick-box with each questions, entitled “How confident are you in your answer?” with “Confident” or “Not confident” as choices.

Aside from helping keep learners healthy, happy, and stress free, classrooms full of movement rather than sitting down and facing the front, or classes regularly broken up by exercise will help keep learners creative and ready to learn by helping maintain brain plasticity (Cotman and Berchtold, 2002). Whilst school children are given time to play between lessons, this is often not used exercising, rather, it is used to socialise. Whilst I am not suggesting that school children should not socialise with each other, I am suggesting that a more rigorous amount of exercise each day for learners would be beneficial in order to reap the benefits. The Berger and Owen study investigated swimming, body conditioning, yoga, and fencing, yet I believe that any form of exercise would work in order to keep these minds happy, stress free, and yielding a high level of plasticity.

As I have said before, deep-level reasoning questions asked between tutors and learners would help create better levels of understanding of a subject. This can be easily achieved by asking more questions of the learners, yet it is difficult to do so in a classroom with 30 pupils and only an hour to teach them a subject. More open-ended questions and essays would help encourage this mode of thought, without such tight guidelines on a learner to learn what the teacher has told them, and to go out and find things out for themselves. This would also aid cognitive flexibility, as it would enable the use of non-linear media in order to learn a subject, rather than just using one textbook, and one teacher. Classrooms where students could discover for themselves and be guided by teachers rather than learn directly from them would enable this.

We are all aware that our education system is in dire need of repair. We are taught the skills of memorisation and regurgitation of information, with the threat of failing our lives if we do not comply. For comments this week, I would like you to discuss with me ways in which we can enable creativity in the education system. I would like you to critique my ideas that I have presented here, you may counter them with proposals of your own if you wish, as I plan to critique your own models, allowing a demonstration of how cognitive flexibility can be used to overcome a problem, which in this case is how to enable these skills and concepts within the education system.

Berger, B. G., & Owen, D. R. (1988). Stress reduction and mood enhancement in four exercise modes: Swimming, body conditioning, hatha yoga, and fencing. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 59(2), 148-159.

Cotman, C. W., & Berchtold, N. C. (2002). Exercise: a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in neurosciences, 25(6), 295-301.

DeYoung, C. G., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2005). Sources of openness/intellect: Cognitive and neuropsychological correlates of the fifth factor of personality. Journal of personality, 73(4), 825-858.

Feldhusen, J. F., & Goh, B. E. (1995). Assessing and accessing creativity: An integrative review of theory, research, and development. Creativity Research Journal, 8(3), 231-247.

Feldhusen, J. F. (1995). Creativity: A knowledge base, metacognitive skills, and personality factors. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 29(4), 255-268.

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry. American psychologist, 34(10), 906.

Magno, C. (2010). The role of metacognitive skills in developing critical thinking. Metacognition and learning, 5(2), 137-156.

Pannells, T. C., & Claxton, A. F. (2008). Happiness, creative ideation, and locus of control. Creativity Research Journal, 20(1), 67-71.

Spiro, R. J., & Jehng, J. C. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory and technology for the nonlinear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. Cognition, education, and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, 205.

Swanson, H. L. (1992). The relationship between metacognition and problem solving in gifted children. Roeper Review, 15(1), 43-48.

Weiss, A., Bates, T. C., & Luciano, M. (2008). Happiness Is a Personal (ity) Thing The Genetics of Personality and Well-Being in a Representative Sample. Psychological Science, 19(3), 205-210.

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Last week I began this four part blog by summarising my first three blogs, whilst also adding in some additional content. These blogs focused upon the concepts of metacognition, rational thinking, confidence, integration and comprehension of information, critical thinking, creativity, self-regulated learning, and depth of understanding. I hope to use these basic concepts to further my talks over both this week and the next two weeks in order to create a comprehensive guide to areas of psychology that have real-world application and potential within our education system.

In this blog, I will talk about the link between creativity, its relationship with intelligence, personality types, and happiness. This post summarises important background reading for my next post, which shall be on problem solving and creative thinking, how they interact with each other and metacognition (Feldhusen, 1995 is a good place to start, although I shall be talking about that next week as well). I believe that the skills of problem solving and creative thinking will lead to cognitive flexibility, and that this will interact with metacognition overall, each skill helping train a person’s mind to become better at the other skills. I will also propose methods for teaching and increasing these skills to those in the education system as well.

We have already seen from my previous posts how important creativity is. From Torrance’s study it has become evident that creativity is at least, if not more important than intelligence in helping individuals succeed. A follow up study performed on Torrance’s original participants fifty years later shows that intelligence is still useful, yet only in areas of public achievement. Intelligence had no effect upon personal achievement however, whilst creativity did (Runco et al, 2010). This should come as no surprise to us, the correlation between IQ scores and creativity test scores is negligible (Kim, 2005), which implies that creative ideation and intelligent thought are very different ways of thinking. I will continue to talk about creativity, and how to nurture it within this study, as the topics I have talked about during this series of posts all aim to help an individual achieve personal success.

In 1999, Shapiro and Weisberg found that the personality traits of openness and flexibility (which is similar to cognitive flexibility, but not quite the same thing. Confusing, I know, but I’ll avoid shortening cognitive flexibility to just flexibility to avoid any misunderstanding) lead to creativity. In the study, this was seen more in people with hypomania without depression than those with depression, yet they also saw this effect happen within the normal population, indicating a link between happiness and creativity. The happier you are, the more creative you are it seems. Lyurbomirsky and King (2005) conducted a meta-analysis of studies that researched correlations between creativity and other concepts and found that chronically happy people are more creative than those who are not, which reinforces the findings of Shapiro and Weisberg, indicating that extended periods of happiness seem key to creative thinking.

Torrance’s study indicated that not just artistic minds are creative. Indeed, with the creative children that seem to have done so well in life, he may well have missed a specific part of their personality when testing their creativity. Feist (1998) found that both scientists and artists are considered more open on the Big Five personality questionnaire than the average person. Here’s where we can pull everything together:

Openness is correlated with happiness, (Furnham and Petrides, 2003), which as we already know is correlated with creativity. We also know that openness and flexibility lead to happiness. In terms of how a person thinks, it seems then that the creativity nurtured by this mindset appears to thrive best when one is happy. This means that people with this mindset will pursue a career or set of ideas that intrigues them, as this is what they wish to be most creative about, that which makes them happy, which goes to ex explain how children from Torrance’s study grew up to be scientists, and not just artists.

Whilst this open and flexible way of thinking can foster artistic talent (Guildford, 1957), it specifically aids one in being cognitively flexible (Spiro and Jeng, 1990; DeYoung, Peterson, and Higgins, 2005), as their creativity applies to the approaches they take to their given field. As such, an open and flexible mindset is one that we should help move people towards in our education system in order to allow them to attain their full potential.

 

DeYoung, C. G., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2005). Sources of openness/intellect: Cognitive and neuropsychological correlates of the fifth factor of personality. Journal of personality, 73(4), 825-858.

Feist, G. J. (1998). A meta-analysis of personality in scientific and artistic creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2(4), 290-309.

Feldhusen, J. F. (1995). Creativity: A Knowledge Base, Metacognitive Skills, and Personality Factors. Journal of Creative Behavior, 29(4), 255-68.

Furnham, A., & Petrides, K. V. (2003). Trait emotional intelligence and happiness. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 31(8), 815-823.

Guilford, J. P. (1957). Creative abilities in the arts. Psychological review, 64(2), 110.

Kim, K. H. (2005). Can only intelligent people be creative? A meta-analysis. Prufrock Journal, 16(2-3), 57-66.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?. Psychological bulletin, 131(6), 803.

Runco, M. A., Millar, G., Acar, S., & Cramond, B. (2010). Torrance tests of creative thinking as predictors of personal and public achievement: A fifty-year follow-up. Creativity Research Journal, 22(4), 361-368.

Shapiro, P. J., & Weisberg, R. W. (1999). Creativity and bipolar diathesis: Common behavioral and cognitive components. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 741–762.

Spiro, R. J., & Jehng, J. C. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory and technology for the nonlinear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. Cognition, education, and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, 205.

 

 

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Jesse quoted me this in a meeting with him, from a paper on education: “If I had a sick nephew, I would not take him to Socrates for treatment, I would take him to the finest University hospital in order to have him treated. If I had a nephew that needed to be educated, I would not take him to the finest University, I would take him to Socrates.”

This quote looks at the underpinnings of universities. What are they actually aiming to do? University rankings are determined by research conducted above all else. Having the best facilities and equipment run by the greatest minds is what makes a University considered prestigious. It is unique in the education system in this, as schools and colleges are ranked by the percentage of students attaining good grades in multiple fields, yet universities could produce tremendous research whilst giving poor to terrible teaching, and it can still be considered a great university. We assume because the research is conducted well, the teaching is too. Yet this is not always the case.

Jesse also spoke to me of the Socratic method, the teaching style used by Socrates that teaches purely through asking questions. You can take a concept, question it, and then improve it. Anyone who has read my previous blog will understand how this helps an individual develop the concept of deep-level-reasoning and cognitive flexibility, and how they in turn aid metacognition. One aspect that I haven’t directly connected yet is that of critical thinking. Questioning a concept directly aids your critical thinking. As a form of positive hypothesis elimination (Attaining new hypotheses by getting rid of old ones because of contradictions or problems you have found with them), it teaches you how to critique both your own ideas and thoughts (in a manner similar to metacognition), and those that you are told of or taught. Teaching a person this skill is considerably better than teaching them the fantastic (I wish there was a font for sarcasm) skill of rote memorisation. It expands their mind in so many different ways that will give them skills that are useful throughout their entire life, which I shall extrapolate on further within this blog. The information you learn throughout school may as well be meaningless, it is the skills that you use to learn it which count, and having a mindset that can take information and find ways to make it better is much better than a mind which can simply hold a lot of information in it (More on this later).

Speaking of rote memorisation, this brings me on to my second topic of this blog: Our values of intelligence. Currently, the education system believes that a mind that can hold a large amount of information is a good mind, and aims for us to have this skill. We have all experienced either college or A-levels in order to get into this university, as well as mainstream education. We are taught that having lots of knowledge makes us intelligent and ensures us a good job. Good grades means a good university which means a good degree, which means a good job, which means lots of money, which means support for your family, which means happiness, and so on. It really doesn’t seem to be this way however. Torrance created a quotient by which he measured creativity in the late 50’s. Releasing his paper twelve years after examining over two hundred children, he found a very strong relationship between a person’s creativity in both high-school and as an adult, but also between their creativity and their success in life. From careers such as inventors to diplomats, software developers, and doctors, they excelled beyond their uncreative peers. Creativity helped these children far more than their intelligence, it led them to become innovative and approach situations with a level of cognitive flexibility which enabled them to have successful careers and lives.

Creativity is largely left alone within the education system, being considered an artistic trait. If you are creative, you are artistic, rather than enthusiastic about a certain subject of interest. If this were the case, then how did the creative children from Torrence’s study become doctors? Creativity stems from enthusiasm, yet children stop asking questions of their parents once they enter school (J. Martin, personal communication, October 24th, 2013), wherein we are taught not to ask questions, but to answer them. It seems the education system has run into a huge problem. We know that creativity is more important than intelligence, but have decided to teach intelligence instead.

Creativity polymathy (The ability to be creative in more than one domain) is already considered to be fairly common, with Kaufman et al (2010) believing it to be a hierarchical system. Creativity can be taught and trained (Ansari and Berkowitz, 2010) (Limb and Braun, 2008), bypassing any speculation that some people are creative and others are not.

If there is a hierarchy of creativity, and you can be trained, then you can progress to higher levels of creativity, ensuring that you develop skills such as critical thinking, which when combined with Socratic question asking give a much deeper level of understanding of knowledge rather than pure memorisation, whilst also equipping you with skills that will aid you in all aspects of life. Critical thinking helps aid metacognition and rationality, enhancing your skills with logical thought. Question asking aids cognitive flexibility, which also helps develop creativity. These ensure that rather than learning how to memorize information and dump it after an exam you will  enable both learning and innovation, applying creativity and critical thinking to your ideas to create higher levels of polymathy, which will enable you to conceptualise and understand information at a deep level. These tools are necessary to become a pioneer, advancing both your own thoughts and those of others in order to truly understand a subject, its intricacies, its failings, its strengths, and where it can be improved.

Berkowitz, A. L., & Ansari, D. (2010). Expertise-related deactivation of the right temporoparietal junction during musical improvisation. Neuroimage, 49(1), 712-719.

Kaufman, J. C., Beghetto, R. A., Baer, J., & Ivcevic, Z. (2010). Creativity polymathy: What Benjamin Franklin can teach your kindergartener. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(4), 380-387.

Limb, C. J., & Braun, A. R. (2008). Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: An fMRI study of jazz improvisation. PLoS One, 3(2), e1679.

Torrance, E. (1972). Predictive validity of the Torrance tests of creative thinking. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 6(4), 236-262.

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Education aims to give us a deeper understanding of the subjects we study. It has been well established that a deeper level of processing, such as semantic processing, leads to information being stored in our long term memory for more extended periods of time (Craik and Lockhart, 1972). However, it seems that we do not just need to have a deep processing level, we need to have a deep level of understanding as well in order to create true comprehension of a subject. I will endeavour to explain how to attain a deep level of understanding in this post.

Since the 90’s, it has been clear that asking questions helps increase comprehension of a subject, as it erases misunderstandings and helps fully form an awareness of a subject within a student’s mind (Rosenshine et al, 1996; King, 1989; King; 1994). This alone creates a deeper level of understanding within a learner’s mind, yet it has not been until recently that questions asked by the presenter has been investigated.

Craig et al (2006) found that students who were asked “deep-level-reasoning questions” (questions based on possibilities, such as hypothetical reasoning questions “If we change/do this, what happens?”, and those asking for explanation of information “How does this work?” rather than just recall) significantly outperformed those who were not asked any questions when studying new material. The study emphasizes a greater comprehension of a subject due to the mental representation of the material being strengthened by the learner being asked these questions, which creates a higher level of comprehension for the student. The important part of this comprehension however is that it is integrated with our previous knowledge of a subject. This allows a learner a full overview of all knowledge that they have about a topic, both old and new.

Another key to deeper understanding of a topic is a skill known as Cognitive Flexibility. In Rand Spiro’s book: “Cognition, Education, and Multimedia: Exploring Ideas in High Technology”, he critiques “linear media” such as lectures and textbooks for their inability to teach anything past simple and well-structured content. Revisiting content in different styles (known as nonlinear media or random access instruction for its likeness to random access memory) is useful as it allows different forms of understanding, which all form together to create a learner’s comprehension of a subject. This create Cognitive Flexibility, the ability to understand a topic from many different viewpoints. Scott (1962) suggests that a level of cognitive flexibility is attained by being able to restructure your knowledge, as being able to accommodate for multiple different viewpoints upon a topic allows you to start understanding different viewpoints. Essentially, you must first make room in your mind for another way of thinking about a subject and understand that there are other viewpoints out there before you can fill that space with knowledge and understanding of a topic in a fashion different to that which you already know.

It seems that the depth of our learning is heavily influenced by our comprehension of a subject. From asking deep-level-reasoning questions to acquiring cognitive flexibility through nonlinear media and random access instruction, we can increase the depth and breadth of new knowledge which we acquire, and we can integrate it with our pre-existing knowledge to give us a well-structured centre of information for a topic.

It would appear that these things first require an intricate understanding of both our own knowledge and thoughts as well as an understanding of the information we are receiving and processing, which leads me into something I have written about in my last two posts: Metacognition. They both require a knowledge of our own knowledge. Metacognition is key to enabling us to perform both of the learning techniques I have written about, as it allows us to both observe and critique our own thoughts and knowledge, which will lead to us being able to realise when we need more than one viewpoint to understand a complex topic, as well as where we lack knowledge or have a weak understanding, and so alerts us to the need to ask questions in order to improve it.

Unfortunately, the current education system, principally lectures, does not allow these methods to be used within them. We are often given only one lecture on a particular topic, and it is approached in a linear fashion, without going over a particular topic multiple times. The questions we are asked by a lecturer, if any, require short and simple answers, without too much depth, as these require too much time to effectively answer, cutting in to what little time the lecturers are given. We are also not asked deep-level-reasoning questions as they are better suited to smaller classes, where we can effectively discuss the answer to them, which is not possible in larger lectures as it gives too much of a focus on a particular set of students.

A restructuring of the education system with a greater focus on small groups, metacognitive skills, and a more open and active approach to questions being asked both by the students and of the students, would attain a deeper level of understanding of a subject. This would not only increase a person’s intelligence, but also change the way in which they think, which would aid them in their further studies. A deep level of learning requires a person change the way they think in order to process information at a much more intrinsic level so as to gain a true comprehension of exactly what it is they are learning and how it relates and integrates with their current knowledge, making both Cognitive Flexibility, Questions, and Metacognition key parts of both education and learning.

Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 11(6), 671-684.

King, A. (1989). Effects of self-questioning training on college students’ comprehension of lectures. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 14, 366–381.

King, A. (1994). Guiding knowledge construction in the classroom: Effect of teaching children how to question and explain. American Educational Research Journal, 31, 338–368.

Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching students to ask questions: A review of intervention studies. Review of Educational Research, 66, 181–221.

Scott, W. A. (1962). Cognitive complexity and cognitive flexibility. Sociometry, 405-414

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