We teach the way we were taught – one person dispenses the information and everyone attending is expected to retain all that is dispensed. Is this our natural learning process? The best way to determine whether or not this is part of our natural learning temperament is to study a group untainted by a regimented system of teaching. I know of only one true cross section of people that would fit this criteria – preschoolers. How do infants and preschoolers learn? They learn through discovery and imitation, do they not? When an infant first begins to develop his/her motor skills, what do they do? An infant tries to use his hands to find out what is in front of him. He may not be able to get his tiny hand around every object, but he can learn about its texture, density, mobility, and temperature. He is learning through the discovery processes God has given him. As his skills develop he learns to use other senses for learning.
When an infant learns that she can grip things in her hand, where does that hand take everything it can grasp? If she can get her hand on it, it goes to her mouth, doesn’t it? Why do babies put everything in their mouth? It is a basic step for learning. One basic step that infants and preschoolers do instinctively, yet, we as adults have long forgotten. When something can be grasped with at least three senses, learning will occur. The smallest of children, when placing something in her mouth is using no less than three senses. The first sense used is sight. The child first sees the object. Second, she grasps at and touches or feels the object. By placing the object in her mouth a third sense, taste, comes into action. In many instances all five senses are utilized. If the object rattles, scratches, squeaks or makes any other noise, the sense of hearing enters the learning procedure. On the way to the mouth the sense of smell is exercised as well.
A child learns to walk and speak by imitating those around him. A child born in Korea to Korean parents and adopted as an infant by a family living in southern Georgia will speak English with a South Georgia accent. Their physical appearance may divulge their nation of birth, but their speech never will. The same is true of a child born in New York and raised by a family in Moscow, Russia. They will speak the vernacular of those around them. We are not born with a language and dialect. Those are imitated traits, not inherited. As children grow they continue to learn through discovery and imitation.
It is only when children enter the structured education system that this changes. It has been said that the most formidable years of learning are the first five years of a person’s life. Yet, it is at this point that we take children and try to restructure their entire learning network. We place them in a class with other children their age, and place one adult in front of them and attempt to retrain them to learn using a setting and techniques that are foreign to them. We train them to abandon the intuitive learning techniques that have worked so well for them their entire lives. I must take a moment here to say a few school systems are changing to use innovative methods to teach children today. Innovative for school systems and churches in North America, that is.
In churches and Christian education we have copied the secular school system teaching strategy. Research shows this teaching method is a primary learning style for only eighteen to twenty-two percent of the adults in America today. Other studies have shown similar results worldwide. The average retention for spoken communication is less than five percent. The best form of retention is through direct experience. The fact is that learning retention increases in direct proportion with learner involvement. Isn’t it ironic that the most used teaching methods in our schools and churches produce the least results? In Christian education settings today, we must remove ourselves from simply telling our listeners what is in the Bible and allow our learners to use their natural God-given abilities to discover God’s truths. This will bring about true learning — life-changing learning.
George Yates, Teaching That Bears Fruit