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Understanding - Sergio Della Salla

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Learn more about the nature of understanding from Sergio Della Sala as he provides an explanation of how it connects with knowledge and learning.


There is no learning without understanding: if I don’t understand something - very little learning. In fact one of the techniques to find out whether I have learned something is to try to explain it to somebody else. If I fail to explain it to somebody else then it means that I didn’t learn it properly. So, understanding is the key to learning; but understanding and learning are different from knowledge. Knowledge is something that is accrued that is there it is in our semantic system. I know that Paris is the capital of France - learning is the process that allows me to know that Paris is the capital of France. So these are complementary systems which both are independent from one another. Neuroscientists say that these two systems are double dissociated - that means that one system does not depend entirely on the other. But of course some knowledge is not based on re-creation or representation it’s based on sheer root rehearsal. If you want to learn a poem then we have to learn a poem.When we are exposed to some material that we wish to remember our ability to remember this material is better if we process this material in terms of its semantic content than in terms of the logical content. So, for instance if I have to learn a list of words I remember them better if I link these words to their meaning than to their sound. From this - a big jump was made deriving that therefore it would be better to learn material deeply than at surface level and that was not useful to learn things by heart but only to understand things and to learn them by concepts. So we sort of abolished rote learning in schools. However, without dates, without knowing the sequential or the sources we have very little to hang on to, to build up our learning. Moreover, learning is not one process so, for instance, if we want to repeat these words according to how they rhyme it would be better to learn them according to the sound than to the meaning. So learning depends on how we use the learning later on.

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