How We Learn is Changing

Right? Wrong? It Depends!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the most important skills I got from my education was the ability to find answers.

I wish education in general was more focused on that skill. Rather than accumulating (and, gak, testing for) knowledge, teach the skill set required to acquire knowledge as needed; a kind of “just in time” skill. When you need to know something, you know how to find it.

Learning how to learn” is the popular phrase. Some teach it well, some do not. Some acquire the skill, some do not. Most never realize it at the time, being too focused on standardized tests of accumulated knowledge; knowledge then promptly forgotten.

The internet has changed that.

When you need to find an answer you simply Google it. (Or, in fairness, use the search engine of your choice, most commonly Google). It’s just-in-time knowledge. Information at your fingertips, one might even say.

That’s not a bad thing. An amazing amount of information is available to us at a moment’s notice, more than we could ever hope to have access to in previous days. Learning how to learn has been replaced by learning how to Google. Using a search engine effectively has become a critical skill.

But it exposes a need for a new skill. A skill not being taught, explicitly or implicitly, to the degree needed.

That skill? Discernment. Critical thinking. The ability to evaluate the answers found for their accuracy, bias, and agenda.

What good is are instant results from Google if some of them are wrong? Thinking you know the answer without knowing it’s wrong is arguably worse than not knowing the answer at all.

Sure, this is a popular, perhaps even obvious, topic when discussing politics and social media. This is about much more than that. Traditional information management, research, and even casual questions and answers are now all subject to the same risk: how do we know what we find is accurate? Do we even know how to figure it out?

What good is your ability to Google something if you can’t properly evaluate the results?

Evaluating the results has become a cornerstone skill. And it’s not getting the respect it deserves. It’s not getting the respect it requires.

Critical thinking applies to everything. And in a world where Google provides answers — both right and wrong — in the blink of an eye, it’s more important than ever.

That the skill might also apply to our social interactions is just a bonus; a very big bonus.

5 thoughts on “How We Learn is Changing”

  1. An absolute key to being able to do this remains a strong base of general knowledge. It’s by comparing that against the output of Google that children can learn to smell BS. The whole “you can just Google it” movement is ironically self defeating.

    • A base of knowledge without the ability to discern truth from fiction, accuracy from guesses, and opinion from fact seems just as troubling. Perhaps even more so.

      • I agree Leo regarding the importance of critical thinking. It is essential.
        How does one learn critical thinking? Critical thinking is essential for the
        kind of internet society that we are immersed in.
        I have often thought about this question. My best guess is that a good starting
        point is learning how to ask good questions.

  2. Aptly named because it is “critical.” Especially now. I have become very skeptical of pretty much everything I see on the internet. Medical, financial, even the mundane “life hack.” Just because it is on Tik Tock does not give it instant credibility.

  3. My Dad taught Pre-Med Chemistry at a Jesuit University. Often the phone would ring around dinner time and a Doctor would be calling Dad with questions about how a certain medicine would chemically act on another medicine or with human Physiology.

    Dad always answered and then would go to his den and pull the grade book to see this grown-up student’s grade in Organic Chemistry. He often came back to the diner table muttering, “…I can’t believe I gave that Doctor an “A”. Those premed students can memorize a phone book, and yet, they can’t solve problems…”

    I have a lot of challenges putting myself in another’s place, trying to understand how they believe stuff. Do people really believe the stuff spouted online? If so, that is troublesome.

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