COMMENTARY: How do we learn?

by Mar 29, 2024OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


We have seen many studies on how people learn. Some learn by listening. Others by seeing. Others by doing.

“According to research, if you really want new material to stick, the best way to study is something called ‘distributed practice.’ That means that if you want to master a new concept, your best bet is to study hard for a short period of time, take a break, and then have another go at it, spreading intense bursts of learning over a long period of time.

“But while research shows this is one of the best ways to practice, it doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into the usual way school days are planned. Creative teachers could, of course, work around that to incorporate the strategy into their plans, but according to Kent State’s John Dunlosky, who led a team of psychologists to review the evidence for a great variety of learning strategies, many teachers are simply unaware of the benefits of distributed practice (”

I am an avid Bible reader. I love it. I enjoy the wisdom and artistry in words particularly those words from scripture. I have read it through several times. I have heard it as many. When our Sunday School teacher or Church Pastor institutes a reading, I have no problem going right at it. I also find different translations of the Bible worthwhile to read and it doesn’t bother me that the words don’t match from translation to translation. As best as I can, given my limited mental capacity, I will put in my head and heart the meaning of what is being “said” in scripture, and most of the time, I do get the gist of what is being communicated through the words.

Over decades of hearing and reading those same words, very little memorization has taken place. I am lousy at it. There are some verses, after those years of repetition, I will be able to repeat without butchering them too badly, but, by and large, I am thankful for concordances that allow looking up a keyword or phrase so that a passage may be found quickly if folks need an oratory.

Of course, I am on the elder end of my days, so remembering where my glasses are, even when they are propped up on my head, or my cell phone is, even when it is in my hand, can be challenging some days. Unfortunately, some of my memory issues can’t be blamed on age. I have never been good with names. Whether it is a person, place, or thing, I just don’t retain it or even attempt to retain it the way that I should. I just don’t have the “want to.”

Going back to my favorite book, the Bible, one of the reasons I don’t retain as well as I should it that I am lazy and rely on the supposition that a Bible will always be available to me. We all do that routinely these days. Do you have a smartphone? And do you have a bunch of friends? I bet you do. How many of you still memorize the phone numbers of friends and family? Another bet is that you probably don’t. It is much easier to look up their names in a contact directory on the phone or just say “Hey Google…call Bill” and the phone just does the remembering of that number for you.  Can’t recall the number to Cherokee Indian Hospital? “Hey Siri, call the Cherokee Hospital”. And almost magically, you are in touch with whoever you want without taxing your memory at all.

I had the opportunity to tour one of the local independent healthcare facilities recently. They help people of all nationalities in this treatment center. I asked what they do when they get someone who doesn’t speak their language. Does it hinder them from providing service to someone like that? They answered by taking me to one of their treatment assessment rooms. In it, there was a small computer on a rolling stand (reminded me of C3PO). The guide told me that when someone comes in and does not speak any of the languages the staff speaks, this little robot would serve as a translator for the client and the staff. Some of these language bots will translate over 100 different languages. The guide said that the staff will ask the question in English, for example, and the bot will say it in the language of the client. The client will speak to the bot in their language and the bot will say it back to the staff in English. Treatment is facilitated by this language robot.

I believe learning will continue to be impacted by new technology, maybe forever changing the way we end up communicating. The new buzzword (or maybe it is a buzz acronym) in the modern lexicon is “AI” or artificial intelligence. “Artificial intelligence refers to computer systems that can perform tasks commonly associated with human cognitive functions, such as interpreting speech, playing games, and identifying patterns. Typically, AI systems learn how to do so by processing massive amounts of data and looking for patterns to model in their own decision-making. In many cases, humans will supervise an AI’s learning process, reinforcing good decisions, and discouraging bad ones. But some AI systems are designed to learn without supervision; for instance, by playing a game over and over until they eventually figure out the rules and how to win (”

I have not made a conscious decision to either embrace or reject AI. I know that eventually the decision will be made for me. Like it or not AI is coming. It is always my practice to use the listen-back function of Microsoft Word to help me proof the material for the One Feather. Over the years, I have gotten used to the tinny, robotic voice that mispronounced words that it didn’t have in its memory banks. Last week, I turned on the “Read Aloud” function on MS Word and was greeted by a much less machine-like voice. The computer was using voice inflection like the voice of a human and was getting more words right than wrong. The program was much more conversational like someone sitting in front of me and reading it to me. Others in the office have shown me programs that will allow you to input information about a subject and those programs will create speeches and reports, complete with human flavor and anecdotes.

All this surely makes me wonder what will challenge us to think in the future. What will motivate you and me, for example, to learn a language or perform basic human functions? With certain things done for us, will we have any motivation to create a new vision and mission for ourselves?  How do we learn? In the next few months and years, the tale will be told. I just wonder if we will be telling it or if there will be some artificial intelligence sitting in for us. Now where did I put my glasses…