Learning Backwards

Watching my son and a several other kids at Aarohi Open Learning community, I have come to notice a new kind of learning – which I would like to call as “backward learning.”

However, before I can actually get to describing it, I would like to first talk about something else first …

Forward Learning

I have been exposed to a kind of learning that I would like to call forward learning. What I mean by that is the process by which we are

  • taught basics
  • asked to do homework & exercises, which consists of made up problems that requires us to make use of the basics we have just learned
  • taught intermediary stuff
  • asked to do more homework & exercises, again consisting of made up problems.
  • taught advanced stuff
  • more homework & exercises consisting of made up problems

Somewhere along this path, I would be exposed to things like NTSE (National Talent Search Exam), JEE (Joint Entrance Exam for IITs), CAT and so on. Each of these things would demand additional study, which is more of solving “made up” problems, albeit tougher and tougher ones. Granted that a lot of made up problems are inspired by or almost mimic real world problems. But they are not real, by that I mean there is nothing real at stake.

Somewhere along this journey from basics to advanced, which would take a couple of years of my life, I would have mastered the art of solving made up problems and come up with a life experience that I am smart and capable of solving made up problems, where the only thing at stake if the problems aren’t solved is that I will score less and perhaps not qualify for that university I am eying. But hey, the good news is that the world will move on and I would have left people around me with no impact and value still.

Once I graduate from this arduous journey of solving made up problems on paper for years at a stretch, I am handed over a piece of paper certifying my ability in solving made up problems. Then I step into the real world, in search of problems that match the kind of made-up ones that I have mastered solving all my life. Eventually, I will hit this realisation that real life has real problems and that my education has seemingly left me with no real capacity to solve those real problems. At that point, I throw all my certificates aside and restart my education, or rather start my real education. But this time, I learn in the backdrop of real problems, irrespective of whether there is a text book or even a certified teacher who will help me understand those problems or not.

Backward Learning

I have noticed this phenomenon in Advay (my son) and several other kids at Aarohi.

I am sure non-Aarohi kids also exhibit this, but I haven’t been as keen in my observation of them. Open-learners prefer to directly take up real world challenges where there is something real at stake. For instance

  • LDR circuit, because the campus needs lights to automagically turn on at night and off in the morning (Advay & Achalesh)
  • Photography, because people will show up at my workshop to learn from me (Mishti)
  • Writing novels, because people want to read stories and enjoy entertaining perspectives (Srishti)
  • Making films, because people want to watch films (Aswathy)
  • Nutrition & Fitness for women over 35, because most women need some hand-holding to manage their health amid all the professional and personal chaos in their lives. (Skanda)

Now, when they pick up these real world problems there is something real at stake. Its real enough to give an experience of I am needed & wanted to solve some real problems in the world. Now these open-learners have no training, no knowledge, no certificate that they can solve these problems. Said in other words, there is no real evidence about their ability to solve these problems. Yet they take it up and solve them.

No, no, no …. hold on. Let me say this in another way.

Open-learners look at problem statements lying around and choose one or more problems that they declare is worth their time and life.

Once chosen, they then submit themselves to universe’s care to pick up the knowledge, skill and body energy to go about solving it. And once they are done solving it (either fully or partially) they measure if the experience of solving it matches with their expectation from life. If yes, they will continue doing it. Otherwise they will go choose another problem to solve.

It’s not about picking problems that match their knowledge and training. It’s about picking a fun and engaging real world problem and then figure out the knowledge and training to match the problem.

Quick Personal Story: Nandini (my wife) and Advay (my son) regularly revise Math, Science, Language & History from NCERT — just in case he announces 3 years from now that he wants to write NIOS. Recently someone in our gated community posted on our WhatsApp group that they want to give away 7th std NCERT Maths text book. Advay called dibs on it and fetched it from their house. He opened the text book (a used text book at that) and browsed through subjects. He got excited that 7th std Maths has 2D & 3D geometry. Why you ask? Because he has already been doing 3D Modelling in Blender for little more than six months, making models and micro-animation films. He is already using 2D & 3D geometry and he just found it rewarding to learn the “basics” of it too.

The real-world problem (of making 2D & 3D animation films that will bring joy and laughter to viewers) is at stake, in the service of which 2D & 3D geometry is learned first. And by the way, due to a chance encounter if the basics show up, there is a whole different taste of the subject available to relish and enjoy.

Learning Backwards is loads of fun!!