Friday, August 21, 2015

What is rote learning?

In general, we hold rote learning with utter disdain. Add it to the context of the Indian education system and everybody tells you that rote learning is bad. But is it so bad?

Take the example of sports coaching. You hit a million shots or punches or balls - whatever that is - ultimately you are getting those drills to move from conscious competence to unconscious competence. And that is exactly what rote learning does.

So, if rote learning is bad, so should sports coaching as well? The IIT coaching classes that are a rage today do exactly the same thing. Make the person go through so many drills so that the end of the few years, they are 'experts' just by virtue of having done the same thing so many times that it is internalised.

So, is the disdain for rote learning a disdain for effort? Or is it a slightly more nuanced position.

I suppose the answer that you will get if you put the above hypothesis is that, well, our learning is a lot of rote but with very little build up on top of that. Or that they just learn text book things but without much real learning. And while all of these are real issues - rote learning as a means to get the unconscious competence is a great way. And that means, that the student is just better prepared. However, if  you cannot build on the scaffolding of rote learning - whether it is in music or sports or dance or studies - then that becomes a drawback.

Rote learning as a means to regurgitate textbook knowledge is useless. Rote learning as a means to get faster to the next level of unconscious competence is good...

Let us not confuse the two and imagine that children will learn anything without putting in the hours.

Nobody ever became an expert on anything that they did not work on a day to day basis - putting in the hours.

Or the other way - if you do nothing each day, you become nothing. Whatever you put the hours in, that is what you become an expert on!

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