Modern Education: The Efficacy and Necessity of State Dependent Learning

For a long time I’ve had qualms with our modern education system. My biggest complaint is the impersonal, dry, rigid, and seemingly irrelevant approach to memorizing and reguritating information. I often argue, as many people do, that formal education isn’t practical, that if fails to instill true comprehension and understanding, to fully engage a students mind and passions. I had an epiphany today that shed light on what this means exactly.

When I take tests, it’s typically in a hollow classroom on stiff chairs and cold desks. My ability to recall information with proficiency depends on massive inundation with a text, repetition of words and concepts, until I’ve drilled them far enough in my skull so that when I see a question with a certain combination of words, my mind retrieves the appropriate associated content. But this is not learning, per say; it’s regurgitation. My body and mind exist in a single state, an “academic” or school state, where all the information goes in and comes out the same way.

On the other hand, I often find myself in a certain context, a specific situation or circumstance, and I’m able to recall and converse and argue and expand on information and knowledge that many would be hard pressed to guess was residing within me. The ability to perform these acrobatic feats of comprehensive cognition requires that I’m in a specific state of mind which is engaged with the moment, the situation at hand. In every new circumstance, with every new set of problems I encounter, my perspective, and therefore mind, shifts and I enter into a state of consciousness that is perfectly adapted to produce solutions due to previous experience in that state.

What it all comes down to is recognizing the importance, nay, the all encompassing relevance, of state dependent learning. This is where school fails.

The ability to critically think requires engaging different perspectives. But school doesn’t necessarily teach diferent perspectives. Sure, they may encourage studying abroad and joing extracurriculars and what not, but real learning takes place within a specific state produced by a specific context, and all knowledge is born out these contexts and the problems inherent within them.

What modern education needs to emphasize is state dependent learning. Teach philosophy by philosophizing, by asking questions, by creating dialog and conflict and then seek resolution through thoughtful discourse. Teach math by providing postulates and propositions, then a problem, and have them prove the problem. Teach economics by evaluating a real company. Teach communications by role playing a real problem or agenda with real unpredictable variables. Teach accounting by throwing a person into a company and having them learn by going through and asking questions.

The reason for experiential learning is that all knowledge is procedural and therefore state dependent.

When education learns how to provide an environment that effectively presents material in this fashion, students will thrive.

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