Pictures, Parables, Paradoxes
Pictures, Experiential Learning and Phenomenology
A “retention pyramid”, presented in Ronald Sousa’s How the Brain Learns,1 circulates widely among educational professionals. It suggests we learn most by teaching others, second through practice by doing and least through lecture, with audiovisual in the middle. Many repeat this as if gospel. However, the pyramid was first devised in the 1960s, and one suspects it is more accepted than demonstrated, a little like the popular yet false belief that we only use 10% of our brain, now propagated in the movie Lucy. One further worries that it is wise to be wary of anything so tightly summing up learning; and, moreover, that students should learn to listen better, this being crucial in life. Then there are also differences between retaining and learning, a distinction frequently lost in Egypt where I teach, and where, like so many other places, studying often means memorizing. In fact, one of the Arabic verbs for “I study” (athakar) has the same root of a verb for “I remember” (atathakar).
Having said this, learning obviously involves memory, and the retention pyramid has merits. After all, many of us in the educational field come to our best understanding by teaching. We also better learn tasks when walked through while doing them, as opposed to merely hearing instructions. Further, presentations with visual aids, even when only tangentially related to subject matter, engage us more than ones without, although this is not the sort of image I wish to...
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