During my radio interview with historian, Martin Marty, I shared something with him which he found helpful. We were not talking about historical matters, but grief. I was interviewing Professor Marty on a book he wrote about his first wife’s death from cancer.
After the interview, I realized my reflections also related to learning.
The three diagrams below represent various ways we may conceive of the learning process.
The circle emphasizes that “repetition is the key to learning” because we are always coming back to things we thought we learned. The problem is that there is no movement forward. True learning means that we are growing in our knowledge. A circle depicts the repetitious nature of learning okay, but not the dynamic of progress.
The second graph shows an arrow moving forward. It reflects progression which is good, but it fails to depict that learning involves reviewing former things we’ve learned or going back to earlier lessons and seeing fresh insight there. Progression simply in a linear direction is not a good example of how the best learning takes place.
The illustration I shared with Professor Marty is the one which best depicts learning: the spiral staircase. It includes the best contributions of the circle and the line. Like the circle it reminds us that true learning means coming back to things we’ve previously learned and like the line it reminds us that we should be making progress.