Can babies teach us how to learn?

Babies have a wonderful way of exploring the world around them. If you look at them closely, you see the engagement of physical self, the sensory feedback, and absolute immersion into every project they begin. I am your weird next door baby watcher, who observes how babies learn, and I can vouch that babies have never felt bored of mixing salt in water, or looking for dinosaurs in the backyard soil, they can do it for hours everyday. From digging in the backyard, to squishing the strawberries, it’s the curiosity about the physical world around them, which they constantly try to satisfy.

Once they achieve comfort with the physical world around them, the mind gets curious about concepts and the reasoning behind the workings of physical world. It’s when some of the engagement with the physical self gets replaced with mental engagement and thought, and learning starts to change its ways. Some kids adapt to this method of learning easily, while others start zoning out in their Math or Literature classes, or other topics which don’t have a default physical analogy to ground their understanding. It is not to say that book reading or classroom instruction is by any means a lesser way of learning. On the contrary, a classroom is an inherently physical space that allows for very visceral learning. It is on us to use that potential to the fullest.

“Explain it to me like I’m a 5 year old” essentially means bring it down a few abstraction levels and talk in more concrete, even physical, terms. “Show, not tell”, and “Learn by doing” need to be core tenets of all learning for everyone, not just for little kids. I believe babies teach us a lot about how to learn.

Interaction, tactile experiences and visualization of concepts are extremely critical for a lot of us to learn effectively. It’s why educators have forever tried to impart conceptual knowledge by means of analogies or experiments that engage kids’ senses and imagination, with variable success per age group. For little kids, the playsets which imitate real world concepts work really well, it’s like a small sandbox setup for them. I see my daughter making volcanoes and love how she flies across planets in a solar system made out of Legos. Using physical objects to learn the basics of mathematics is a technique as old as Abacus. But, of course, the struggle gets real when the concepts get complex. Moreover, the investment in visualizing concepts or availability of useful and controlled setups goes exponentially down, which means many subjects never get a physical play field. After acquiring a basic understanding of a subject, you are left up to your interest and imagination to navigate further complexities, which obviously leaves many kids behind.

This gap in the education framework has been biting us hard for a long time now, and that’s why you see the surge of games and mixed reality as mediums for teaching and learning. Games for example can have a really immersive world, the action-feedback loop can offer you learning with a much lower cost than a real-world physical setup will need, while offering a way to bring your real world intuitions to your way of study. The possibility of fantastical elements increases the ways to communicate a concept as well. If you add mixed reality to the mix, it gets more sensory, engages the physical self and takes you closer to the babies’ way of learning, ie, the most natural way.

Mixed reality games and experiences are now using body pose and facial gestures for interaction. These tools and methods can be the bridge between instruction and imagination, skipping the metaphoric black hole where knowledge is often lost. The learner can explore and experience any concept viscerally, similar to a little baby’s exploration of the physical world in the early years.

Who knows, we might even keep curiosity and love of learning alive then. If we can follow through on the promise of immersive education, spread equitably far and wide, then we can finally bring joy back to learning.

I‘ve written before about how to use Augmented Reality and Games to teach effectively. Stay tuned for more!

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