Do not underestimate self-learning

People will teach themselves if the information is available.

Jacqueline Lewis, Writer

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, described in a 2007 TED Talk  numerous “hole in the wall” experiments. In these experiments, he took computers with internet and other programs and left them with groups of children in impoverished areas of India that had never seen a computer. Soon, these children taught each other how to browse, download, upload and complete other simple tasks.

An Ambitious Goal

After the success of these simple experiments, he tried again with a much more ambitious goal — for Tamil-speaking children to teach themselves biotechnology in English. He left the computer on a site about biotechnology in English and told them to teach themselves and left.

Two months later, he returned and asked the children if they understood any of the material, and they replied that they looked at it every day, but did not comprehend it. Mitra asked them again to confirm this and a twelve-year-old girl raised her hand and said, “apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes genitive disease, we understood nothing else.”

At Your Own Pace

Khan Academy also exemplifies this concept of children’s ability to teach themselves. The Academy is a free website where anyone from anywhere with internet access can create an account with the website in order to track their progress, save their checkpoints and then test for mastery.

With the program, students are able to learn at their own pace and master each lesson before the continuation of the lessons. It uses a goal-oriented system, where once the students tackle each topic they earn different badges according to each person’s merit.

The academy receives reports of students watching hours and hours of physics videos and fifth graders learning college level mathematics in order to win Khan Academy badges. They did not need anything else but their own curiosity and the necessary information to learn.

A Will to Find

Self-learning is a powerful tool for the acquisition of knowledge, and is most effective in groups and in children. When curiosity fills the mind, there is no way of stopping it. Mitra claims in his TED Talk that “education is a self-organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.”

If information is available and there is a will to find it, it will be found. The human mind has immense potential and children are some of the most adept learners on the planet. This is even more true when they can think creatively, according to an article in The Guardian. This process of self-learning allows for this imaginative thinking.

This is the basis for the Socratic method, used by the Torrey program, law schools and other educational institutions. Yet, we do not use this process of self-learning often enough in the education system of the U.S. when we teach young students. We underestimate children believing they are incapable of learning at higher levels when in reality their minds are primed with great educational potential.

Do Not Repress

This does not mean children are magical beings with a superpower for learning, nor does this imply we should push children so hard they break. This only means that we must not hold people, especially young people, back or repress natural curiosity. This also means college students should feel encouraged and not underestimate themselves. Even when we believe we cannot excel, if we let our curiosity guide us, we can.

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