Applying vs. Knowing
Learning is most often figuring out how to use what
you already know in order to go beyond what you currently think.
During a 1996 talk at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, educator and software developer Tom Snyder talked about the role of computers in education:
Anecdotal examples demonstrating that students can understand the lesson but are unable to apply the knowledge
Felipe Pasmanic, a second-grade teacher at Buena Vista Elementary School in San Francisco, discovered that students could understand a concept or procedure but not know when to apply it. He was teaching the concept of addition using "regrouping" (adding in columns). Felipe asked groups of students to solve the problem 13+18 but without specifying how they should solve the problem.
Some groups used regrouping to solve the problem.
Others made 13 marks and then 18 marks and counted the total number of marks.
Felipe thought the students did not understand the lesson on regrouping.
To find out what they didn’t understand Felipe asked those who used the marking method to demonstrate regrouping using the numbers 13 and 18. Much to his surprise, they all were able to add the numbers using the regrouping method. He realized that all the children had learned regrouping but only a few were able to figure out when to apply the method. In other words, they were able to retrieve the information but unable to use it to solve a problem.
Teaching Microsoft Works
Valerie Landau encountered a similar phenomenon when teaching a textbook-based course at a community college. The course consisted of students completing a step-by-step tutorial in Microsoft Works. After completing the database section, she modified the exam in the book and asked students to solve a problem.
Develop a database for a media distribution company that sells books, cassettes, and CDs. Enter formulae that calculate the cost of each customer’s purchase including sales tax.
None of the students were able to complete the assignment.
Valerie said, "Ok, let’s try to figure this out on the white board. Who can tell me the how to calculate the following: If I buy one $20 CD and one $10 book, what will it cost me, including sales tax?
All the students were able to figure out the problem on the board, but they were not able to apply their knowledge to this new mediuma database.
Then Valerie asked, "How do you create three fields and enter these calculations?" They were all able to complete the task. Because the teaching method emphasized learning the procedure for creating formulae in fields, rather than how to use the database, they "knew" the material, but were not able to apply it.
Download the entire text of Developing an Effective Online Course
|The Engelbart Hypothesis: dialogs with Douglas EngelbartNew Book by author Valerie Landau about the utopian ideas about learning that sparked the revolutionary inventions of the personal computing revolution.|