It’s not what you learn, it is what you understand

A thought that has transpired through reading about what makes great teachers is not that a student can learn more then what they came into the course, but rather about what they understand about the concepts being taught to them.

Learning is superficial, anyone can learn something new – one thing a day right? However how much of what we learn do we actually understand?

When you learn how to solve a trigonometric equation, do you understand why it is like that? Does it make you think about why it is important or do you just know that it’s the process in order to get solution X to question Y?

What is becoming apparent through reading on the topic of teaching is that more often than not teachers teach their students learning material so that it covers the curriculum rather than making them think about why it is important. This is not to say all teachers do that, because they don’t. What is concerning is that there is so much emphasis on learning that understanding the inner workings of the concepts takes a back seat. How many times in school have you asked yourself when will I use this in real life? Why do I need to know about this? The fact that a student asks questions likes this just emphasises that they don’t understand the information that they have learnt.

Students come into courses with a range of already developed paradigms, schemas about a particular topic, some may even enter with faulty paradigms which can cause dissonance in learning let alone understanding the information. This is why the one size, one approach to teaching information to a classroom of students does not work and you will find this is where the plug and chug method becomes the model of teaching. There is little connection to the real world, there is little relevance to the student to care about what they are learning to understand its potential and underlying value.

Theoretically to be a great teacher one must know enough about a disciplines history, the controversial topics, why they were to be the case, they way in which they influenced and developed the discipline and how people understood and reacted to those changes to undoubtedly teach curriculum to a classroom full of students all of which hold a range of convictions about the subject matter at hand.  This can open dialogue to test, argue and conclude why their convictions and preconceptions may or may not be right or even suitable to maintain and if that is the case allow them to understand the right way to observe the topic and develop a more structured schema based on more meaningful observations and information. They are not just exposed to what is currently the case but rather exposed to what was, what has and THEN why it is the case now and can work among those events to  understand the way things are in the present and the meaning for it. We do not learn properly without having first experience something. We learn from mistakes from trial and errors and the same can be said about understanding learning material. You can be told why, which is what our parents spend their lives doing, but until you understand, or learn from past experiences how are you supposed to understand properly. It is such an innate process to understand, why is it only an afterthought?

Through all this, it has also posed another question for myself that with the great wealth of knowledge that teaching staff posses why is it that they are so resistant to the evolution of technology. Have they not understood themselves the evolution of technology and the way that it has influenced and changed the paradigms of learning? That students now develop multifaceted schemas as a result of the various ways in which they can learn and develop understandings based on their experiences. This is where I am discovering the exponentially increasing hole that the current educational paradigm shift is having as the current standards and practices resist to adapt.

The everyday learner is developing their understandings through different forms of media, not just video games, and as a result traditional teaching methods are being questioned, but why is this such a difficult thing to call out among the mainstream?

When we engage with something, like a story, character or even theme within a video game we gain meaning and in turn that meaning fules and drives our interaction. The most prominent example of this is with the companion cube in Portal. Up until our first encounter with the inanimate object the cube we had been exposed to was just an ordinary part of the interaction, but once it was introduced and having us to proverbially bond with it, it proved to be a vital part in solving puzzles we developed meaning. The cube was not just a cube, it was a companion throughout the learning experience. Who cares? Well that is just it. Up until the point where GlaDOS called it the companion cube, I dare say no one thought twice about the ordinary cube in general. The same goes with learning. Without understanding and meaning, who cares about what we are learning, it’s just part of the process right?


Learning is important but it is understanding that is so pertinent to our development. How much of the information you learnt 5 years ago, do you actually remember compared to that information you cared about and developed meaning towards?

I am really interested to hear people’s thoughts of video games in education for both sides of the argument. Whether you’re a student, teacher, parent, someone with any thought on the topic, feel free to drop me a line.

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