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epeck's picture

language-style education

Language acquisition came up as an example of learning that occurs without structure and really much “teaching.”  Language is picked up on easily and cross-culturally, with most rules understood although not usually taught.   As we were having this conversation, I kept thinking that language was an “unfair” example, since it is learned in such a different manner than other skills or subjects, and should really be in its own category.  I started thinking about what else would go into the category of things learned in a similar way and came up with skills like eating, walking, running, smiling…and more sophisticated things like mirroring, sarcasm, ways to manipulate the behavior of others…etc. 

All of these things are either necessary for survival, or are extremely social.  As was mentioned, babies learn quickly that if they cry, they can easily manipulate the behavior of those around them.  This type of behavior is somewhat sophisticated, yet required no explanation or training.  Although I do think these are somewhat “unfair” examples to show that structure is not key to learning, it would be interesting to try to develop a system of education based on social learning.  If children can easily and naturally learn things like language because it is a necessary social skill, can we somehow make reading or chemistry into a “social skill”? 

If you want to quickly learn a language, an immersion class is extremely effective.  If you read often to a child, they may pick up on the skills without ever being formally taught.  Would this kind of immersion/social setting work in other subject areas?  If you took an “immersion science course,” would it be possible to learn the basics of chemistry just by observing others doing problems are being put in a situation where you have to work with others to figure out problems with some of the students never having formally learned the material?



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