Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

3 Ways to make a learning experience rewarding

Learning is not easy. Remember the last time you tried to learn something. Was it easy? When it is, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences. But if it’s hard, you feel frustrated and wonder what’s stopping you from having success at learning – “Can I still do it like I used to?” – or – “Will I ever be able to learn anything new?”

When my eldest daughter started school, sometimes I listened to her in her room speaking to imaginary friends. Once I went to see what she was up to, and I found she was teaching her imaginary students the subject she wanted to study.

She was teaching.

As a professor at the university, I try to prepare every lecture the best I can with the time available. Basically, I need to study the subject to teach it.

Over time, you might study less, but the challenge of teaching is still there because students are different every year. However, I remember several moments when I better understood something while teaching. Especially while making exercises during class. Once I was solving an exercise, and a student asked me a question to which I honestly didn’t know a simple answer. Bottom point. Hadn’t studied enough to give him a clear explanation. Then a colleague of his reminded a concept related with that question, and when I looked at the expression “bam!”… I understood.

The best way to learn is teaching. Therefore, these are 3 ways I think might revolutionize the learning experience and make sure it is rewarding. It implies changing your mindset.

1st Way

Interiorization

Michael Polanyi was a scientist and philosopher of science who spoke about the process of interiorization in his “Tacit Dimension”. He says when you interiorize, you identify yourself with the knowledge and make it yours. This is what you should do.

But a similar thing happens if you are teaching. Students listening to you consider you own the knowledge. And in fact you have to make it yours. But remember the purpose is guiding your students also to experience owning knowledge and making it theirs. This is interiorization.

2nd Way

Accountability

The second way is finding an accountability partner. While studying, you should think you’re preparing a lecture, rather than an exam. Afterwards, seek a colleague who has a lot of difficulties with the discipline and teach him. And if your colleague understands better another discipline, he’ll do the same for you.

3rd Way

Making yourself one

Polanyi goes even further and states in another book (Knowing and Being, KB) that

“to attend from a thing to its meaning is to interiorize it, and … to look instead at the thing is to exteriorize or alienate it … we endow a thing with meaning by interiorizing it and destroy its meaning by alienating it.” (KB, 146) 

Alienation means you isolate a thing in such way it ceases to be part of your learning experience. It becomes something you endure to get where you want to go. This is not rewarding.

This implies the personal involvement of a Professor in his/her teaching, of Students in their learning in a process of interiorization to a point you make yourself one with the other.

Making yourself one with the other implies emptying of our ideas by giving them to the other, and thus “make space” to welcome his/her ideas. And in reciprocity, also the other detaches from his/her ideas by giving them to welcome ours. This dynamics expresses the relational character of how we understand the interiorization process.

QUESTION: Do you know other ways of making a learning experience rewarding? 

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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