Great Debate: Why Arguing Is The Best Way To Learn

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Carl Wieman is a Nobel-Prize winning physicist, and a professor who prided himself on his brilliant lectures. There was just one problem with Wieman’s teaching style: his students weren’t learning much. As it began to dawn on Wieman that his students were absorbing little by passively listening, he decided to try an experiment. He presented a fact in his lecture, then quizzed the students 15 minutes later on the fact. The proportion who remembered the information: just 10 percent.

Wieman himself comments: “To see whether we simply had mentally deficient students, I once repeated this experiment when I was giving a departmental colloquium at one of the leading physics departments in the United States. The audience was made up of physics faculty members and graduate students, but the result was about the same: around 10 percent.”

Wieman resolved to shake up the way his students learned—and what he did next carries an important lesson for all of us who want to promote effective learning at home, in the classroom and in the workplace. He had his students argue with one another. Turning to a nearby classmate, each student took a turn explaining and debating a concept from physics.

Wieman, who now focuses his professional energies on improving science education, says that such debates, along with other changes, lead to “substantially greater learning gains than are achieved with traditional lectures, with typical increases of 50 to 100%.” Yet most classes—and most meetings—still feature someone droning on at the front of the room. Shake up that ineffective format, the way Wieman did: ask your students or your employees to engage in explaining, persuading and debating the material at hand.

Or try it out on The Brilliant Blog. Below are invitations to debate with two of today’s most interesting thinkers: Dan Pink, author of the best-sellers A Whole New Mind and Drive, as well as the just-released To Sell Is Human, and Nicholas Carr, author of the best-selling and much talked-about 2010 book, The Shallows (and the Atlantic magazine article on which it was based, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”). Read their messages to me and share your own thoughts in the comment section below.

A Debate with Dan Pink

Background: In a recent blog post, I recommended Pink’s book A Whole New Mind, and added, “When reading Pink’s book, just ignore the scientifically-unsupported ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ stuff. His insights are quite useful without it.”

Dan Pink then wrote to me:

As you know from the book, I say repeatedly that I use the lateralization of the brain as a metaphor—and that the science shows we use both sides of our brain for everything we do.  I also devote the first chapter to exploring the science of lateralization, helping readers sort fact from fantasy.

Readers, what do you think? Does using the right brain/left brain terminology perpetuate a fallacy, or can it be used productively as a metaphor? Share your views in the comments section below.

 A Debate With Nicholas Carr
Background: The lead article from my newsletter of two weeks ago, “Is Technology Rewiring Your Child’s Brain?”, argued that the answer to the title’s question is “no”—that “while it is true that our brains are to some extent ‘plastic’—that is, responsive to experience—it is also the case that there are biological constraints on how our brains operate.”

Nicholas Carr then wrote to me:

Since “rewiring” is a vague (and frequently misleading) figurative term, when applied to the wireless brain, it would help here if you defined what you mean by       “rewiring.” Instead of “rewiring,” let’s say “influencing the number and strength of synaptic connections among neurons.” One thing we know is that, within the         broad constraints of genetics, the individual brain adapts to its environment. The environment influences both the number (anatomical change) and the      strength (electrochemical change) of the brain’s synapses. The influence is exerted throughout the course of a person’s life (the brain is never nonresponsive to the environment) but the influence is strongest during a person’s youth, when the brain is at its most malleable. Tools, or technologies, are a very important part of the human environment, and the internet, or digital media in general, is certainly one of the most intensively used tools of the current age. And, indeed, the characteristics of the use of the internet (intensive, repetitive, immersive) are the characteristics that have been shown to have the most effects on brain plasticity.
Therefore, if by “rewiring” you mean something like “influencing the synaptic connections among neurons,” I would suggest that your statement “No, technology is not ‘rewiring’ young people’s brains” is misleading. Technology very much influences the synaptic structure of the brain, and because a young person’s brain is more malleable than an older person’s, the effects would be more pronounced in the younger person. So, for example, even though the basic process of memory consolidation doesn’t change, the way that process plays out in an individual brain may be altered by technology use, particularly intensive technology use. Similarly, even though the basic processes of attentiveness remain unchanged, an individual’s capacity for attentiveness (in all its forms) may be altered by technology use.
Of course, you may mean something entirely different by “rewiring the brain.” But, even so, I do think it’s incorrect to imply that the human (primate) brain is    uninfluenced by tools, when there is such a large body of evidence to the contrary.
But I do think you’re absolutely right to emphasize that the digital native/digital immigrant dichotomy is largely nonsense, at least when it comes to the basic    ways the brain works. We all have human brains, young and old alike.

Readers, what do you think? Are young people’s brains being changed by technology? Share your views in the comments section below.

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48 Responses to “Great Debate: Why Arguing Is The Best Way To Learn”

  1. Pedro says:

    Using left-brain, right-brain as a metaphor perpetuates this neuromyth, but it also means often to divide people in categories, from which we know is quite popular but often contraproductive.
    I myself would refrain from using this metaphor, for sure if you know that it’s wrong.

  2. Barry Kort says:

    The left side of my brain agrees with Annie Murphy Paul, but the right side of my brain says, “What the hell is wrong with a rough metaphor, if it helps people who prefer to use their right brain to understand things that are too technical for their left brain to grok?”

  3. Jason Flom says:

    Using “left-brain/right-brain” by and large just gets in the way of really understanding and discussing topics related to cognition, by, as Pedro put it, perpetuating the neuromyth. Daniel Pink intentionally using a metaphor with a fatal flaw does serve one purpose though—it lets us know he is human. Which is nice.

    • Perry Clark says:

      Use (herein defined as implementation of, with our definition having no regard to intent, or “right” or “wrong”) of any extant item (metaphor, axe, theorem, ballpoint pen) does not reliably indicate that the apparent user is human. HAL used the resources at hand quite effectively to discourage Dave.

  4. Mark Strauss says:

    In the words of David Hume, “Truth springs from argument amongst friends.”

  5. Great work, Annie – thank you! Regarding the left brain/right brain terminology, I suspect that it’s use – metaphorically or otherwise – is more misleading than helpful, not only because it provides an inaccurate depiction of how our brains operate but also because it perpetuates a dualistic, narrow-category sort of thinking that’s contrary to the integrated cognitive processes that give rise to art and innovation.

  6. I am not sure that arguing is the “best “way to facilitate the learning process. It is true that lecture “kills brain cells” (that’s a metaphor!), —that is, causes the brain to be inattentive. It is my understanding that any activity that engages the emotions and/or provides movement will help put information into the long term memory. I advocate using the “fun” emotions of laughter and humor to assist with learning.

    • Perry Clark says:

      Mary Kay–On what basis do you make the claim that lecture “causes the brain to be inattentive”? Might it not be, as your later advocacy might seem to imply, that lecture is simply inefficient at engaging an already inattentive brain?

      On another, broader note: Is it the brain, the mind, or the person that is inattentive? Need it be only one of the three? Is there utility in the distinction I offer?

      • Darryl says:

        Hey Perry, I would add to your comment that some people are really thrilled by lecture. I am generally kinetic in my teaching style. A few years ago I had one student who just hated my interactive classes (by interactive: hands on, move around, experiential). She, by the by, was the valedictorian of her class and went on to getting a MS degree in physics.

        She much preferred to have a lecture–and she paid attention whenever I did use lecture.

        So I think, while some may question the idea of learning styles (kinetic, auditory, visual), I believe it really depends on the person whether or not lecture engages. Remember in the little “study” Annie mentioned, 10% did retain the information! So 10% were engaged at some level!

  7. Kathy Sierra says:

    What a juicy challenge. Though it’s been a while since I read “a whole new mind”, I remember quite clearly that it states the right brain / left brain is being used primarily as a metaphor. As such, it made sense to me. Had he chosen to use more arbitrary labels (system A and system B, for example), it would still have worked but lost some of the priori influence we already have for referring to things as “left brain” or “right brain”. Is it misleading? I don’t think so… and no damage is done even if people DO think of it this way. I might say otherwise if the book suggested that each individual had hard physical limits based on “dominant hemisphere”, (over-simplified: if you aren’t right brain donate you’ll never be creative enough, etc.), but of course he does nothing like this. So, I say the pros (makes use of readers’ existing awareness of brain “styles” based on hemispheres, however technically incorrect they may be) outweigh the cons (misleading if people do not take his “metaphor only” message).

    The Carr one is trickier for me. I think I’m with him on this one, though. And agree that it’s good to dispell the “digital native” thing while NOT minimizing the significance of tech’s effect on the brain. Given the evidence of technology’s effect on people’s *behavior*, how misleading IS it to claim that it is, in some specific ways (which I agree, should be defined), changing some of the “wiring” of the brain. (THERE, problem solved, just put quotation marks around all mention of “wiring” 😉

    Part of how I would view both of your questions is to wonder what the downside is to potentially mislead people in a specific case. Though I know it is completely subjective, my view is that there’s likely no harm done with the right/left brain idea, but potentially GREAT harm when people (especially parents and teachers) underestimate the ways in which technology effects the brain. (or “brain”)

  8. Jenni says:

    Understanding what an ‘argument’ is helps too. I like two definitions:
    1. a fact or assertion offered as evidence that something is true
    2. a discussion in which reasons are advanced for and against some proposition or proposal
    When people discuss or argue, they are putting ideas ‘outside’ of themselves. They are in a sense ‘teaching’ the other person and hearing what they know again themselves. Very powerful.

  9. Everything we experience and do changes our brains. A better question than “Is technology rewiring your child’s brain?” is “”How i technology rewiring your child’s brain?” or “”How much is technology rewiring your child’s brain?”

  10. Brian Fox says:

    I think that the right/left brain metaphor has become part of the vernacular and is easilty understandable in a way. People generally understand what you mean when you reference right or left brain type issues. That being said I generally don’t reference this metaphor much, but I don’t mind Pink using it as it gives me a point of reference too.

  11. Larry says:

    I heard this some time ago and thought I’d share it. A patient goes to see the doctor and explains: Doc, I don’t know what’s wrong with my brain. There’s nothing right on the left side, and nothing left on the right side.

    Now to the issue. I do think there’s been lots of misinformation and simplcity with the whole left/right brain exploration and even grown to attach learning styles – using one side or the other. There are books, lectures (TED) and info speaking in terms of how neatly differentiated certain fuctions are on one side or the other

    Now that I know more, I think of it as throwing a ball. My body needs to be doing several things – seeing where I will throw it, figuring out the angle and force to use to throw it so it gets there where I want it to go, keep my balance while I throw, make sure who I throw it to is ready to catch it, etc.

    These are skills from different parts of my body and brain but I don’t distinguish which came from where unless I’m disecting it or analyzing it. Mostly, I just throw and learn to throw better

    So with left/right brain. The whole brain is involved but with different skills from either area and actually its not that skills are contained all on one side or the other but all over the brain and even memories from the body. In our attempt to simplify concepts we’ve oversimlified how things work and mislead us all as to what’s going on with the brain.

  12. Anne Mackin says:

    Hmm…As I don’t know Dan Pink’s work I don’t feel able to comment on the first debate question. The second “Debate” is a little more familiar to me and I have to say that I find Nicholas Carr’s clarifications to be helpful, and a more accurate way of viewing the issue. However, I never would have read his clarification if the brilliant Annie Murphy Paul had not raised the issue in her Brilliant Blog.

  13. Larry says:

    Everything we think, feel and experience wires and rewires our brain and affects our body. I suppose the issue is who has more stuff to rewire and who spends more time on what types of digital devices and experiences.

    At a lecture some years ago, the presenter (about 30 years old at the time) shared her experience with high school students. As she was visiting a classroom she asked a girl, “So how are you adjusting to the new technology we have today”? The girl said, “To you its technology, to us, that’s just the way we do things”.

    Today’s students have what we call ‘ digial technology’ as their starting point and for many of us, we adjust from how we’ve been doing things before so the wiring and rewiring is different since there’s differen starting points with different amounts of already existing info and wiring – perspective.

    Our brains today are wired differently than people from 500 years ago – nutrition, health, gadgets/inventions, how we can live, expectations of relationships, security/fear, education, available information, etc. We are all affected by what we live with (in our head and in the enviornment) – its just a matter of how we are affected and what exists to be affected!

  14. Another question might be whether young people are developing bad habits through intensive internet use. After all, habits influence what we do and even how we think about what we do. I’d say the internet can foster a mixture of habits, some more desirable than others–but one particularly insidious habit is unconscious multitasking. Kids (and adults) get so used to switching from one web page or activity to another, that they don’t realize they’re doing it. Then, when it comes time to focus on something, they find this very difficult.

    Regarding the value of arguing in class, Wieman may have overlooked an important consideration. When a student is absorbing a lecture, it’s perfectly natural that she won’t remember much on the spot. There’s so much to put together in the mind. (It isn’t necessarily “passive” learning at all; the mind may be highly active, in fact.) Later, when reading and solving problems at home, the student starts to recall what she heard earlier in the day, and it starts to fall into place. That can be extremely rewarding.

    When you try to ensure that students understand the material on the spot, you take away the concentration during class and the mulling and remembering afterward. To me, very few classroom procedures are as depressing as “turn and talk” activities. When I am listening to a professor, the last thing I want is a room abuzz with talk. The penultimate thing I want is the pressure to come up with an instant answer. The antepenultimate thing: a suggestion that if I am listening to someone and thinking about what he or she is saying, then I am being passive, proof being that I can’t recall, immediately afterward, exactly what the person said.

  15. Speaking from personal experience, I think the Internet does influence and change our connectomes.

    “I notice that my mind has reset to being primarily linguistic rather than, for example, visual.” [after beginning to use the Internet]. – Brian Eno, artist and composer, when contributing to an edge.org discussion on ‘Does internet change our thinking’.

  16. I find the left/right brain metaphor very useful while fully understanding that it is a massive oversimplification. I sometimes stop my logical thoughts (which I’ll call left brain for simplicity ;)) and try to approach an issue using his concepts.

    I love Dan Pink’s insights and in fact reviewed ‘A Whole New Mind’ from a veterinary/medical/education viewpoint on my blog (http://rebekahmbrown.com/2012/08/16/a-whole-new-mind/) last year. I’m waiting impatiently for my copy of ‘To Sell is Human’ – it may have melted on the way here in the ripper of a heatwave we’re having in SE Aus.

    In support of Carl Wieman’s interactive approach, I find even commenting on a blog in this way forces me to clarify my thoughts, even though it is a virtual ‘argument’. I don’t think it needs to be strictly an argument to encourage students to interact more and absorb more from a lecture. I also empathise with Diana’s feeling that she doesn’t need to recall everything on the spot to be learning. It’s a matter of finding a balance.

  17. Thanks for both these provocative starters.
    breifly, I am a fan of the left / right hemisphere “false dichotomy” / metaphor.
    – as a leftie and artist there is no doubt in my mind that the way I see the world is influenced by these factors
    – the book drawing on the right side of the brain presents a compelling case for some distinctions… I make use of several of its techniques such as drawing upside down and literally experience a tangible perception shift.

    I always think of the right brain metaphor as a return to a beautiful pre verbal state… When perception was not truncated to symbols, but remained nuanced and whole.

    Re: the second debate about re-wiring…. Absolutely every habit is “re-wiring” out brains… Learning an instrument, practicing a new sport or game, or multi- tasking online… It’s all changing our wiring…

    And finally Yes I absolutely agree that debate is the only intellectual undertaking that can truly build confidence, not certainty, but flexible, open-minded, discerning confidence in one’s ability to understand and analyse. While a great lecture should never go away as a form of teaching, it is certainly through debate that learners blossom.

    Happy New Year!

  18. keef feeley says:

    Excellent article and having taught for 40 years so pertinent.

  19. This discussion reminds me of the TED talk of brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor. How does her experience (stroke in left half of her brain) relate to the neuromyth that left and right brain are different? Anyone? http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

  20. Tom Gram says:

    The left/right brain distinction is only a metaphor because of its connection to old and faulty pop science. I think its use, metaphorical or otherwise, just reinforces incorrect perceptions of how we think and behave. Those who know better have a responsibility not to “perpetuate” it, as you say.

    The Nick Carr bit has me thinking. It’s got me wanting to learn more about brain plasticity I’ve never bought the digital native argument or that the internet changes our (or our childrens) brains.


  21. Margret Geraghty says:

    From personal experience, I do think that arguing is a great way to learn. However, it can be problematic. When I did my psychology degree I found the tutors welcomed being challenged and that was great. However, during a Relate counselling course, the (admittedly less academic) tutor found this approach threatening. ‘Why do you always have to argue?’ she said. ‘It’s the way I learn,’ I replied. She was not impressed.

  22. Lee Chazen says:

    Re: the “left-brain/ right-brain” way of thinking: I think the initial discovery of the two hemispheres of the brain and what each was responsible for was useful. Perhaps it helped us to recognize why some people were more linear in their thinking and why others were more conceptual or creative. But, it lead to more questions. Is activity more pronounced on one side of the brain or the other? Can being more left or right-brained be caused by environmental factors is or is strictly genetic? Maybe it’s a combination of things…

    The real problem – and this is particularly clear in social and political life – is categorization! Instead of recognizing a wide spectrum and a multiplicity of reasons for someone’s behaviors and actions, we conveniently place such behaviors, actions and ideas into neatly defined categories, i.e. Republican, Democrat, logical, creative, etc. By doing this, we set up a whole list of prescribed behaviors based on assumptions i.e. creative people are probably not good at practical things, left-brain people can’t be good artists, Republicans have no empathy and compassion, Democrats are against the growth of businesses. And, we have built an entire culture around supporting these groups, which only reinforces the behavior. Sure, some people meet these descriptions, but does everyone have to think like this?

    Re: debate / “Friction makes the pearl.”

    Suggestions to overcoming rigid classifications: 1.) Study Consilience by Edward Wilson (more for the metaphor than anything else); 2.) Read about Calvin Andrus’ work on the evolution of information; 3.) Study the power of heterogeneous groupings in producing creative things. 4.) Read Doidge on “neuroplasticity.”

    • Erik Kowal says:

      I take your point about the dangers of applying excessively rigid classifications. Clearly, defining things in terms of distinct categories is useful only to the extent that the properties of the entities being classified coincide with the characteristics defined for given categories. In some areas of human activity, the usefulness of the classification may vary over time — for instance, during periods whose politics are highly polarized, the broad Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative distinction will be more reflective of certain clusters of values and policies than during periods in which the politics are more consensual.

      I am personally highly sceptical of the right brain/left brain distinction. The more we know about the brain both as a set of discrete sub-organs with their own specialized functions and as a collective entity which must coordinate its constituent parts in order to perform behaviours that are useful to its owner, the less tenable it is to apply such a crude description.

  23. As for the left/ right brain part, I am with Annie. I feel rather uncomfortable while reading in terms of left/ right brain metaphor. The brain-body, I think, is a complete ensemble and no part individually makes sense, only further confuses.

  24. Pete B says:

    I think you could make the case that all human communication – and much knowledge – is ‘metaphorical’. Gravity ‘pulls'; components of atoms are ‘particles'; light consists of ‘waves’ (but doesn’t splash – so not too good a metaphor perhaps). Maybe it is being too ready to think we are _not_ dealing in metaphors that leads to error.

    In this particular case also, I wonder if the debate isn’t about metaphor, but reductionism. ‘This is a bad metaphor because it doesn’t lead to correct explanations at the neurological level.’ For me, left/right is a good metaphor as long as we understand it as such and don’t try to give it unwarranted precision.

    I believe the left/right metaphor is useful because it gives us a handle on understanding at a practical level how we use our brains and how we csn change that usage. I haven’t read Dan Pink’s book, but for me the ‘eye-opening’ text was Betty Edwards’ “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and it was eye-opening because it worked and the key to how it worked was me actually feeling the shift in the way my brain was working – it’s real (for me at least) and whether we call that left/right or some other pairing is maybe not that important, though perhaps a big danger with this metaphor is precisely that dualism which it forces on the debate.

    As I said, my view is pragmatic and, I guess, subjective. I believe the brain has different modes of working and that I can recognise ‘right-brain’ mode when it happens, like when I’m running http://a419.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/thoughts-on-run.html – which I probably should be now :)

    Regards all, Pete

    Thanks for the debate

  25. Joseph Bellina says:

    On rewiring the brain, it seems to me we have to wait for data, rather than guessing and trading metaphors, that is if you want to do science. Surely someone has begun to look at brain scans under these sorts of influences.

    Regarding Wieman, his point is well taken. You might want to look at the work of Eric Mazur as well.

    As I have commented to you in the past, we are embarked on a state-wide venture to encourage K-8 grade children to learn science as scientist do in a grade appropriate way, by guided inquiry. I think working with college students is good, but for the most part the damage has already been done. We need to work with young children, even pre-school is that is possible.

  26. Piers Young says:

    Interesting post! Am curious about the percentage increase that debate brings … when you say between 50% and 100% increases do you mean:
    a) that the students end up retaining between 50% and 100% of the material? or
    b) that they retain between 50% and 100% more than via lectures (so effectively between 15% and 20%)

    Sorry if it sounds pedantic!

  27. David Baume says:

    I’m with Barry, Rebekah and others here. If it’s useful – that is, if it gets results for you and your students – use it. And keep checking if it works – things change! And if you can find why and how it works, so much the better. You may get to a truth – for now at least!
    More broadly. things can be useful without being true, and true without (necessarily) (yet) being useful.

  28. Trevor King says:

    There seems to be a lot of agreement in the comments section and a lot of jumping on the bandwagon. The left brain / right brain division is more than just a metaphor–it’s how your brain is divided!

    Look at your left hemisphere–it IS the verbal hemisphere! It houses Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, both specialized regions of the brain that help the subject with speech production and comprehension.

    However, of course the hemispheres need to work together. Hence, the corpus callosum, a fibrous bundle that ties the two hemispheres together.

    I’d also like to point to Michael Gazzaniga’s split-brain research, in which he found that there exists a “left brain interpreter” in the left frontal lobe. Perhaps “the father of cognitive neuroscience” has already been proven wrong though, and I’m entirely unaware.

    • Trevor King says:

      *There seems to be a lot of agreement in the comments section, and very little argument! I don’t mind playing the devil’s advocate…

  29. Trevor King says:

    Also, left-handers DO have greater verbal fluency because they are more cognitively equipped when it comes to communication. It’s not a myth. I’ll explain why if anyone’s interested, but I fear that this convo is over (it’s day old already!)and my thoughts no longer matter.

    However, left-handers may lose their leg up when it comes to writing and words in the 21st century because few write by hand anymore!

  30. Carolyn D. Cowen says:

    Annie: Clever idea to invite debate on these hot-button topics and to frame the debate as a mind-stretching exercise and thought-provoking discussion.

    I had the pleasure of interviewing Pink last fall and we touched on the right-left brain metaphor issue (http://www.interdys.org/QandAwithDanPink.htm). I absolutely understood his thinking and appreciated his efforts to underscore that this is a METAPHOR. He really does bend over backwards to do this and I’m not surprised that he followed up with you.

    That said, the fact that the left-right brain metaphor still appears to be taken literally by many (despite Pink’s efforts to clarify) and remains controversial suggests that the metaphor may veer too close to a powerful and enduring “neuro-myth” (oversimplification). That pains me to say. I love metaphors and have great respect for Pink’s insights and writing.

    Regarding your interaction with Carr, perhaps it is simply a matter of degree—and perhaps another metaphor (wiring) is clouding rather than clarifying.

    Hmmm… guess I’ll think twice before I use one of the darn things again, at least when it comes to the brain!

    • Trevor King says:

      Thanks for the link to the article, Carolyn, but I still think right brain/left brain is MORE than a metaphor.

      I also think Dan Pink painted an overly simple metaphor, which doesn’t seem to depict an accurate representation of the brain’s hemispheric communication. At least, in my understanding of it.

      • Trevor King says:

        In fact, I would even argue Pink got carried away with the metaphor, which betrays an inadequate understanding of the brain’s hemispheric communication. But I don’t want to offend anyone… Would love SOMEONE to ARGUE with me though.

  31. I feel our minds are designed to develop and use in what areas we are reinforced. This means, yes, our minds are fully capable of developing in any area of the mind that is not organically dysfunctional. The autistic savant is able to perform great feats, mathematically, musically, etc. The reason for this is that when say, due to mercury poisoning or other, the damaged areas of the mind are not used and so mental energy is transferred in “rare instances” to an area not damaged, again rare cases of whole undamaged, math, music, other area. Therefore, I see mental energy as the key to learning. As so-called normal individuals, our minds are dealing with an array of many things past and present, both consciously and subconsciously. This creates our average stress or layers of mental work that take up real mental energy. By seeing stress as layers of mental work we can all then approach our lives more delicately to continually improve our learning, motivation to learn, and our mental/emotional health. By showing students how their individual environments greatly affect thinking, learning, and motivation to learn over time, students and adults can then use tools to continually lower layers of mental frictions to continually change and improve their lives over time. This will create much more hope, inspiration, and motivation from within the student. Theory has many many applications.

  32. […] annie for the idea.) […]

  33. David B says:

    I’m a huge fan of Dan Pink and a whole new mind. I know there’s controversy about right/left brain. Whether the brain is physically divided in that matter is not the crux of the issue. What is clear is that we don’t all think in the same manner, that the analytical skills once valued in the marketplace are now being eclipsed by the conceptual skills that Dan speaks of, and that American institutions–particularly schools–need to be completely overhauled in order to catch up to this new reality. And yes, arguing is by far the best way to learn.

  34. Arthur Clarke says:

    I have never been able to make sense of right brain/left brain. Maybe it is because I am left handed and am continually confused in a right-hand dominant world. The distinction should be left in the dust bin of bad notions, like a lot of Freudian stuff, like anal. Both are bad metaphors, because they too easily masquerade as serious thought.

  35. Wastrel says:

    This is also why videos, like lectures are a waste of time as learning tools. To learn something, the brain must be actively engaged in thinking about it. The brain is not a sponge, it’s a thinking machine.

  36. Richard Schroeder says:

    Comment 1: It sounds like Wieman may have rediscovered what everyone else calls “the Socratic Method”.

    Comment 2: You say he prides himself on his lectures and he must be bright if he won a Nobel prize, but maybe he really is a lousy teacher. Maybe the average undergraduate has more teaching skills than he has. After all, he apparently had never even heard of the Socratic method.

    Comment 3: Most of the universities I have ever seen don’t rely on lectures alone for education, but also use homework problems, discussion sections led by Teaching Assistants, term papers, and laboratory work. Did Wieman’s classes also contain these elements?

  37. Dustin says:

    As someone who still tries to apply Plato’s tripartite division of the mind as much as possible I think applying a left-right brain metaphor to one’s mind can be useful. I think the value in this is that by weighing how your mind and ultimately self works by breaking in down into different and opposing pieces it helps create an objective view of the self and creates space between what I would say is the subjective view and objective view of self. By viewing how your mind might think different things or act in different ways you end up viewing yourself from afar so to speak and treat your mind more rationally.

    I agree that a luddite/child who grows up with an Ipad at age 2 will have completely different brain wiring is a bit misplaced. I don’t think technology is able to cause brain development changes so great that the development differs completely from the wiring thousands of years of evolution have set up. And yet, even when I was in college the absence of both students and even some professors lacking good grammar and vocabularies because of spell check was a topic of discussion. If you think language influences and is intertwined with the entirety of how our brain works (and I do think this,) than while the brain’s hardware might not be changed by technology so to speak, just from this example, the brain’s software can be significantly rewired by technology.

  38. Jenifer says:

    Isn’t the crux of this debate (if the title signifies anything)about learning? Learning theory, from its inception – which one could argue goes back to Socrates – or even further, has consistently reinforced the notion that engagement is a, if not the, key catalyst to internalization (along with perceived relevance, applicability and meaningfulness). Are we debating whether one engages better in a discussion vs. a lecture? Is that really a debate?
    Or are we debating whether repeated activities enable mylenation of the neural pathways in our brains thus enabling the laying down of more solid, faster acting neural pathways? Again, I’m not sure that’s up for debate. And whether that repeated activity is playing the violin or playing videogames – or whether those activities are right-brained or left brained doesn’t change the science – which I think is Nick’s point.

  39. I teach physical chemistry to life science students and I tell them they cannot learn it passively like watching Sesame Street. They must do problems and think. But until close to an exam, they do not. Hence they get behind as one concept builds on another. I will try the 5 minute debates in class. It might get them thinking.

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