Learning Process Demystified


“ It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry…. ‘ Albert Einstein

In 1999, the Hole in the wall  (HIW) experiments in children’s learning, was first conducted. In the initial experiment, a computer was placed in a kiosk in a wall in a slum at Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to use it freely. The experiment aimed at proving that children could be taught by computers very easily without any formal training. Mitra termed this Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). The experiment has since been repeated. HIW placed some 23 kiosks in rural India. In 2004 the experiment was carried out in Cambodia.

This work demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own with public computers in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds, even without knowing English.

This experiment conducted by Sugata Mitra indicated very clearly that when faced with a situation, these children showed innovativeness, resilience to teach themselves. In other words, one can say, ‘You are your own best teacher’.

‘You can learn anything you want to learn’, would be the next lesson to be drawn from this experiment. These children learnt a language that they did not know and met the challenge. Curiosity and Grit were two of the factors that paved the way for this.

The book ‘No Limits to learning: Bridging the Human Gap’ by James W. Botkin et al describes two principal modes of conventional learning.

Maintenance learning is the acquisition of fixed outlook, methods and rules for dealing with known recurring situations.

Shock learning occurs when events overwhelm people. It can be seen as a product of elitism, technocracy and authoritarianism.

Both these learning types accept conventional wisdom. In other words, what is taught is accepted and not questioned.

A hilarious example comes to mind. The lady of the house was cooking the thanksgiving dinner. She cut a part of the turkey and threw it out and when asked by her grand daughter she said her mom taught her to do it and it is tradition. The young girl promptly asked the great grandmother who was visiting them why she did it and if it was tradition. The answer was. “Oh I did not have a dish big enough to fit the turkey!” May be some practices have come down the generations in this manner without being questioned.


Time has come now to replace this learning with innovative learning. The principal components of this are:

  1. Anticipation or being pro-active. – One of the classic example that comes to mind is that of Apollo 13. Resilience in the face of crew changes; ingenuity in solving fatal problems; and perseverance throughout got them home safely. The Greek engineer Anthony Kontaratos was one of the unsung heroes as he was responsible for helping save the crew of the Apollo 13 mission.
  2. Learning by listening to others

The hilarious story of Einstein switching places with his chauffer is by far the best example that I could think of.

When Albert Einstein was making the rounds of the speaker’s circuit, he usually found himself eagerly longing to get back to his laboratory work. One night, Einstein mentioned to his chauffeur that he was tired of ‘speechmaking’.

“I have an idea,” his chauffeur said. “I’ve heard you give this speech so many times. I’ll bet I could give it for you.”

Einstein laughed loudly and said, “Why not? Let’s do it!”

When they arrived at the dinner, Einstein donned the chauffeur’s cap and jacket and sat at the back of the room. The chauffeur gave a beautiful rendition of Einstein’s speech and even answered a few questions expertly.

Then a supremely pompous professor asked an extremely esoteric question about anti-matter formation, digressing here and there to let everyone in the audience know that he was nobody’s fool. Without missing a beat, the chauffeur fixed the professor with a steely stare and said, “Sir, the answer to that question is so simple that I will let my chauffeur, who is sitting in the back, answer it for me.” Henry, the chauffer was saved by his presence of mind. But one cannot undermine the learning that he had gained by listening to the same theme many times.

  1. Participation – Learning by doing, Experiential learning, Basic Education proposed by Gandhiji come under this component.

Creative problem solving is also a form of innovative learning.

One can learn from friends, from work, from travel and so on. But one can also learn from failure and adversity.  When a football match is lost, analyse the steps that could have been taken to correct the things that did not work to our advantage. Give a qualitative feedback to the students so that he / she can understand the strengths and limitations of the task done.

By far the best example is that of Jim Burke at Johnson & Johnson. Burke said, “ I once developed a product that failed badly. General Johnson called me. I thought he was going to fire me. He said to me,’ I understand you lost over a million dollars…. I hope you will make a lot of decisions. Hardest job I have is people to make decisions. But, if you make the same decision wrong again I will fire you’.

I don’t remember who said this, ‘If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard’.  Perhaps it is better to refer to them as mistakes than failures sometimes to make the kids feel better. Learn from your mistakes should be the focus. The motto could be Discover, be curious, remain hungry for learning.


Published by Dr. Pramila Kudva

I am a teacher educator currently worrking as a Principal of a reputed school in North Mumbai, have more than 30 years of experience, with several publications to my credit and have authored a book -"From chalk to Talk The Art of Teaching.

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