A Valuable Dialogue in Higher Education

How does the brain learn? The question sounds a bit philosophical, but the implications are important. For instance, if learning by memorization only provides short-term results, then that style should not be forced on a student. While there are many theories about higher education available, a common sense example provides a preliminary answer.

Think about the times when someone has tried to teach you a subject. He/She rambled on about some topic that may or may not have initially been interesting. After enough time has passed, the subject becomes difficult to follow. One piece of information gets muddled with another, requiring you to reread the material later. Here lies the life of many college students; they become more reliant on the book than the benefit of personal interaction.

Now compare the above with a much different scenario. You receive a brief lecture before the teacher turns to you and asks a relevant question. Most likely you can answer correctly, so he/she continues on with the lecture. The lecture continues for a few more minutes before he/she pauses to ask another question. This question is a bit harder, but builds on all the material you’ve learned so far. You won’t be rereading material later to catch up. Instead, you might actually be compelled to read further into the subject.

That was a long introduction to make this point: the mind can learn any number of subjects when assisted by questions and dialogue. While the breaks might make a lesson slightly longer, a student should learn more in a shorter period. If common sense is correct, then all educational institutions should teach this way.

Question and dialogue-based learning is a nice dream for brick-and-mortar universities, but this style is nearly impossible for large classes. However, an online university model does not have the same limitations as traditional universities. An online university professor can place questions throughout her instruction. This way, she can make sure, even though she is not physically there, that her students are acquiring all the right information.

If the point of an education is to encourage learning, an online university might just fit how the mind learns. That is not philosophy; it’s how people develop.

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