The focus on what students “know,” based on class grades and standardized test scores, versus how they “acquire or apply” knowledge has left many students feeling bored, disconnected, and disenchanted from their educational journey by the time they get to college. What if someone told you that the mindless way you were taught to approach learning is actually limiting your college experience? Believe it or not, by simply changing your perspective and embracing a more mindful view of your academic life, you can create a better college experience!
Mindful learning works in this way: when we are aware that we are engaging in a process (e.g., I’m learning about macroeconomics), we are much more clear about our intentions (I am learning something new), which allows us the freedom of exploration (I’m curious about macroeconomics), and limits our tendency to narrow our expectations (I want to learn versus I need to make an “A”), thus leading to increased learning. Here are the three simple principles to start learning in a mindful way:
1. Flexibility is an academic strength
You’ve probably learned that the way to learn something new is by holding the concept constant and learning everything there is to know about it (or as much as it takes to pass the test). Though you may have experienced success using this method, do you feel you have actually learned the concept? The mindful way of learning encourages us to allow ourselves to take in information using our senses in a very basic way. By exploring new information, we allow our curiosity to guide the process. You can look at different perspectives, create your own categories, or test your own ideas or theories. Instead of memorization, you actively engage the material by asking yourself questions and making concepts relevant to familiar situations. The goal here is to approach learning from an open and flexible perspective.
2. Context is key
We need to learn basic facts in school, but what is missing in the mindless way of learning are the situations relevant to the facts, or the context. Imagine how much more interesting learning would be if you engaged with facts as though you were reading a gossip blog, asking yourself questions like: “How does a kid with so many resources grow up to become a dictator?” or “What kind of work did Shakespeare do that allowed him to write almost 200 plays and sonnets?” By exploring the context of facts, you can explore information and take in more meaning with less effort. Further, when we consider the context, we increase our ability to correctly apply what we’ve learned. After all, the reason you’re in school is not necessarily just to pass classes, but to also learn how to create options and opportunities using what you’ve learned.
3. This is the time to discover the usefulness of failure
Most successful people will tell you it was the experiences of not achieving their desired outcomes (or experiencing failure) that taught them the most, as it allowed them the opportunity to try another perspective. From a mindful perspective, there is no such thing as failure, just opportunities for exploration. The way in which you interpret the outcomes of your efforts influences your perceptions, which ultimately affects your motivation and experiences.
If your goal is to earn an “A” on every exam, what happens when you don’t? Students can feel that their performance is an internal individual failure. This negative valuation can have an adverse effect on motivation. Consider what would happen if you focused on the process rather than the outcome. By approaching your own learning process with openness and curiosity, you give yourself the opportunity to observe the outcomes, which may lead to deeper learning, insight, and more appreciation for your own efforts.
By following these three simple principles, you can begin to learn in a mindful way that will allow you to get more out of your college experience.
If you would like to learn more about mindful learning here are some helpful links:
Contributed by Dr. Anissa Moody, Ph.D