Friday, July 10, 2009

Learning by Creating

Responding to Bud Hunt, who writes, "that writing, or at least composition, remains about the closest thing to learning in a bottle that I’ve found so far." Shared as part of the document here.

Well, widely construed. 'Composition', certainly, or 'creativity' more generally.

- in the process of preparing for presentations, which includes the preparation of diagrams and/or photos, and the authoring of slides, I learn a huge amount.

- the practice of taking photographs regularly has taught be a great deal not just about photography but also about flowers, trees, bugs and birds

- creating videos (especially., eg. my Bogota video, which involved a lot of production) help me find themes and generalizations in my experiences

- writing software has been enormously educational to me, with lessons in everything from nomenclature and logic to data structures, communication and interaction, and conceptualization, all in addition to learning how to program.

- writing OLDaily, which is a series of short posts, has taught me not only how to write concisely, but also to be more observant, to establish a rigorous and regular research practice, and to communicate with a wider community

- carpentry - for example, the building of a set of shelves and window-box, in addition to finishing a room, taught me how to use power tools, about materials (strengths and properties), about design and decoration, and about furniture building.

- gardening has taught be about plants and insects (and especially how to control lily beetles organically), about soil and weather and botany, about landscaping, and also about process and patience

This is my learning. I know that others learn through creativity in their own right.

Many people, for example, learn through working on mechanics and machines. 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' captures the way the physical practice of manipulating metal and rubber contains wider life lessons.

I think that, in general, creativity in its various forms - writing, film-making, etc. - is a much more powerful form of learning than any sort of passive receptivity or information transfer. Learning, as you say, in a bottle.


  1. "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." -- Confucius

  2. Very interesting points Stephen. I agree with all your points and I love things like programming, gardening, drawing and writing.
    However I have been thinking about the vast amounts of money that are being spent on advertising which leads me to suspect that our brains not only retain a huge amount of information from television but also at on it. If we didn't why would they spend the money? So is this learning or programming? And how would teachers distinguish between the two or more fundamentally decide which was right?

  3. Well, as I've said before, pumping propaganda into people's brains isn't hard. We do it all the time.

    But is that learning? Is the mere acquisition of rote behaviour actually learning? Is mere indoctrination actually learning? Is mere imprinting learning?

  4. > And how would teachers distinguish between the two or more fundamentally decide which was right?

    'programming' is what other people do to you.

    'learning' is what you do for yourself.

  5. 'Is the mere acquisition of rote behaviour actually learning? Is mere indoctrination actually learning? Is mere imprinting learning?'

    Agree. It is not the kind of learning we need exclusively at school any longer.

    Stephen, can you provide a link to your (writing about) photography?

  6. Sure. Here are my photos:

  7. Of course, what a good teacher is supposed to do is to accelerate or induce learning in students at faster pace and with better understanding than the students could accomplish on their own. Good teachers are capable of doing this because they are supposed to be experts in the field they are teaching and understand the material better and at a deeper level than the novice students who tend to focus the surface details of the material.

  8. Thanks Stephen but I wondered if you had done any writing about (your) photography? :O)

  9. > Good teachers are supposed be be experts, students are novice

    Are students not experts in themselves?

    Of course, what a good student is supposed to do is accelerate or induce learning in themself at a faster pace and with beeter understanding than the teacher could accomplish on thier own. Good students are capable of doing this because they are experts in their own learning than the teacher who tends to focus on their own conceptualisation


  10. Good teahers and good students are all experts. We are now in a age of "Co-learns" -- teacher is the co-learner of the students.


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