- Dr. Kalie Baker
The Importance of Learning and Not Just Memorizing
I personally couldn’t agree more with Natalie Portman’s quote, “I don’t love studying. I hate studying. I like learning. Learning is beautiful.”
I love learning. I love reading articles and research papers on visual function, visual treatments, psychology, and neurology topics. I get so into articles and find them so interesting that I torture my husband and make him listen as I reread to him every paragraph that struck me as fascinating. I could spend hours every day watching lectures from doctors and researchers and reading their books on topics that interest me as it is the closest I can get in the moment to sitting down with them and having a discussion with them.
I do, however, genuinely hate studying. I don’t like to force myself to memorize facts. While I love the usefulness of mnemonics when having to remember something I’m honestly just not that interested in, I loathe coming up with them and then scratching my head later to try to remember and make use of what I forced myself to remember.
So how did I make it through my undergraduate to receive a Bachelor of the Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry and double concentrations in Microbiology and Molecular Biology and then go on to get my Doctorate in Optometry? Why did I shake my head when family members said, “Oh I wish I liked school like you do.” as I felt like a part of me honestly hated school sometimes?
Well, it’s because of what I stated above. I loved my science classes, most of them anyway, and loathed those that I couldn’t see applying to my profession. Some of the classes that I did the best in were genuinely my hardest ones that required the most studying and work… only I couldn’t imagine it as work. To me, the topics were and still are fascinating.
With other classes that weren’t nearly as difficult, it felt like genuine torture reading through the textbooks and memorizing the facts. I ended up always having to go to the library to study for those classes because if I was home I would rather do laundry or clean my bathroom than force myself to focus on the material that just didn’t pique my interest.
In the end, I obviously prevailed and made it through. But I always keep things very real and honest and do not hide that while part of it was incredibly enjoyable and perceivably “easier” as I was interested in my major, there was a lot of work and dedication put into getting my degrees and completing all of the required classes.
So how did I do it? When degrees require courses from various unrelated subjects, how does anyone get through them?
The simplest and most straightforward answer is that they see the bigger picture and have the patience to put in the work without reward (delayed gratification) until receiving it years later with the degree that can hopefully aid them in acquiring their desired career. But simple and pushing “delayed gratification” may not help you or your child at the moment, so here are some other ways to think about it.
So what is the value of learning over memorizing?
The value is honestly something that is already well understood and odds are, you already agree that it is more valuable even if you may not realize you do at the moment.
A great example of the value of learning versus memorizing is in mathematics. While we all memorize various simple equations that are incredibly important and time-saving, the greater picture and value of mathematics is learning and understanding the concepts so that we can apply those concepts to an infinite number of situations.
In medicine, while one may eventually memorize a great deal of information about the signs and symptoms of diseases, it would be impossible to memorize everything. Therefore, understanding what the disease does and how the body is damaged is much more useful as now one can derive the signs and symptoms and much more logically.
Engineering falls into the mathematic category when it comes to the importance of learning concepts, only with different and added elements added on top. An engineer could never memorize every measurement or parameter needed for building each structure that they are tasked with. However, understanding there mathematical and structural or electrical concepts, they can calculate and “engineer” what they need.
While the list could greatly continue for countless other careers, hobbies, sports, and situations. The true value of learning concepts over memorizing facts or numbers certainly isn’t difficult to understand, but it raises the next and most relative question.
How do we create the desire to learn something that we need to but, well, we really don’t find that interesting?
For me, if I’m being kind of honest, there were times where I just had to lie to myself to make myself interested. It was sort of a version of the “fake it ’til you make it”. While I certainly don’t recommend lying to yourself or anyone else ever, I did want to be honest with the somewhat ironic or interesting way that I came about my techniques to survive and thrive through my academics.
While my frustration led to a bit of a negative view of learning material I wasn’t interested in, the take-away is what should be focused on and what I focus on now in order to learn material that doesn’t seem to pique my interest at first.
The take-away was really what I told myself. What I would do was create scenarios in my head where I would genuinely need the information I was learning. This was certainly more difficult for some subjects than others, but it really did work to help me to fuel the desire to really learn and understand the concepts, committing them to a longer-lasting understanding instead of just memorizing the details into my short term memory for the next test.
For various subjects, I would imagine myself in an intellectual conversation with someone and it would hit me that this may be a great topic to be well versed on. Not wanting to make a fool of myself, I would take what I was learning in class and relate it to that conversation and realized that simply memorizing facts wouldn’t last in a conversation.
In the same way that you would have to understand mathematical concepts in order to make use of them in the real world, you can’t have a conversation about a topic you don’t fully understand unless you are actively making note that the conversation if for you to learn about the topic. Conversing requires going back and forth with questions, comments, and viewing a topic from different perspectives. Simply memorizing facts won’t get you to that level.
So my main suggestion for shifting your mind from “having to memorize” new material to “truly learning” the new material is to create real-life scenarios of where you will need this information and you’ll quickly realize it’s value.
In adulthood, this task is much easier as the majority of things that we are learning, we are really only learning because we have already come across a situation where we needed the information or we see one coming. Learning the detail about our taxes may be daunting, but when we see the very real dollar signs, the motivation should come pretty quick.
For children, it would obviously be pretty difficult to get them to see far enough into the future to a real-life situation where they would really need or utilize the information they learn in school so try to work to create those situations in their everyday life.
If it’s math, use it at the grocery store to not only add totals or calculate the total with tax but use it to calculate the cost per ounce of something and see if buying a larger amount really is worth it. With other topics, go beyond asking them what they learned and continue with follow up questions that train them to really think about what they are learning instead of just memorizing the facts.
Asking questions with “why” and “how” instead of just “what” shift the child’s mind to think about the history, social studies, or literature topic on another level. Constantly shifting their way of thinking about a topic will train them to do this in the future and promote deeper understandings of everything they are learning leading to long-term memory storage.
As always, if your little one is struggling, never hesitate to get them examined so they can be treated for anything that may hold them back. There is a long list of visual conditions that affect the learning and reading ability of even those who have vision better than 20/20.
Always give your child the benefit of the doubt and know that they may not be a “problem student”, but may have an underlying vision condition and simply can’t understand or explain the symptoms. With countless children, teens, and adults being misdiagnosed with ADD, ADHD, and other learning disabilities and being put on medication that doesn’t even help their problem, a thorough vision exam should be the first thing on your checklist.
Remembering that vision is MUCH more than just 20/20, as a behavioral optometrist, I can’t help but always want to educate people on the 17 Visual Skills and all the ones that are specifically needed just to read and that when it comes to learning, 80% of what children learn is take in visually. So it is vital to their academic success and success in everyday activities, as these are not problems children outgrow, that they have well developed visual information processing skills including the visual perception skills here on this page.
If you feel like you or your little one are struggling with reading or any of the visual skills needed to live your life comfortably, don’t worry! Vision Therapy has incredibly high success rates for various vision conditions and lazy-eyes (or eye-turns as we like to call them).
Call our office today to schedule a complete and comprehensive eye and vision exam!