Post No.: 0009
Humans (and other animals) learn not just via behaviourism (as in conditioning e.g. do x, get rewarded, want to do x again; or do y, get punished, don’t want to do y again) but in many other ways too. Human babies enter the world with all kinds of innate predispositions that shape how they process information that in turn cause or help them to learn different kinds of things in different ways and on different timelines or stages of development.
So another way humans learn is via exploration and play (i.e. without instruction or training at all) – some argue that we should raise children like a gardener by providing a safe, rich and flexible environment for a child to explore and grow, rather than like a carpenter trying to shape a child with a particular outcome in mind. By not allowing children to explore and play, they miss out on learning how to learn on their own, which may mean that they’re less prepared to take on novel challenges in the future. It’s not just about creativity but also the ability to solve problems without supervision or instruction, and having the confidence to take on new challenges that they have not been conditioned for. (It’s like playing with Lego construction bricks may be considered creative – but one won’t be learning how to solve new problems, or problems independently, if all one is going to do is follow the provided instructions and build only what’s pictured on the box. It’s not making the most of such a fantastic toy.)
If you just show a child how to solve a narrow problem then they’ll likely just copy exactly what you do, but if they play, explore and learn deeper or laterally how something fundamentally works, or explore the possibilities rather than just the one answer, then they’ll learn not only how to solve that problem but also other similar problems too, or learn that there are actually multiple answers to the problem. (And this is one criticism of a school curriculum that focuses too much on passing prescribed tests – it risks pupils being only taught to follow instructions and to solve narrow problems, so much that they don’t learn how to solve problems that are even just slightly different. Setting up a school curriculum is tricky though, and testing is important to check learning – it’s about finding the right variety and balance of lessons.)
When you explore and learn why e.g. Pythagoras’ theorem works, rather than just learn the formula, you’ll see the problem in a new way, and maybe other problems in new ways too. And there is no innovation without creativity, and no standing out from the crowd without innovation.
The ‘exploitation versus exploration trade-off’ is about choosing between something close to what you already know and expect (exploitation) and choosing something you aren’t quite sure about but you might learn something more/new if you give it a go (exploration) e.g. going for a dish you’ve heard of and know is fine, or trying out that new dish you’ve never heard of before i.e. ‘enjoy now but learn nothing, or risk it to learn now and enjoy maybe more later?’
Children (and adults too!) learn via play so should be allowed to just play now and again, and this may mean some time on their own or with other people, freeform and without a plan i.e. parents don’t need to schedule the hell out of their children’s daily timetables to fill them with only pre-planned and structured activities. Free time is productive time too if they’re left in a stimulating enough environment (which doesn’t have to be much or be expensive e.g. just being in a public park).
If you want someone to do one specific thing well then directly teaching them that thing is still the best way to go, but if you want someone to do something potentially new and be able to respond to changing circumstances or be able to adapt and apply something to different contexts or places they might not have seen before then play is the best way to go. When we play, we use our imaginations, experiment and explore the limits and possibilities, and think about how the world might be if it weren’t like how it is now.
So like a good diet – aim for variety and balance. Playing e.g. video games is fine, but don’t just do that because that’s not variety – play some other things too, such as physical activity play or crafting things – as well as also care about what is prescribed, such as what is taught to pass school tests and following instructions at other times, for the balance. This is how a child can be best prepared for the unknown future challenges.
Woof. Dogs learn via exploration and play right from birth too!