Informal learning is one of the key topics in this knowledge era. We all use it, and informal learning comes as natural to us human beings as eating. If this quest for knowledge is rooted in each one of us, it starts from the moment we are babies.
Ever since I became a parent (four months and a half now) I have been wondering at times why I put in that much effort into this small baby that barely gave me any signal of recognition in the beginning. But although I did wonder about that from time to time, I kept/keep giving; telling myself that it will pay in the long run. But at times – especially when he has one of his more difficult days – I just think, babies grow up no matter what I do, so why should I invest my precious time anyway!!! *angry, unreasonable fit*. It is on those moments that my learning network can come up with answers that south my soul, telling me it does make a difference and that no matter how intense raising a baby can be at times, investing and nurturing life is the best option no matter what.
Luckily for my son, my partner is the one really giving at this moment – at home 24/7. Always there, almost always patient and with a remarkable – truly remarkable – sense for stimulating the cognitive brain of our preciously young baby (she’s a teacher at heart). Learning him to grab, crawl, speak on the basis of a never relentless stream of examples and motivational acknowledgment when our son takes action.
Alison Gopnik was the one enlightening me this October morning. She works on the subject of cognitive development and draws on psychological, neuroscientific and philosophical works to create and prove her own research findings. She is a professor at Berkeley.
In this 18 minute session on the cognitive characteristics of babies and preschool children Alison says:
How is it possible that babies know so much more then we think they do?
The answer lies in evolution. There is a relationship between the duration of the childhood of a species and how big the brain is of that species. Crows, rooks… are very smart birds (like chimps), they have a longer lasting childhood than for example chickens. And when looking at these two species the crows are much capable of solving complex dilemma’s then chickens.
So the duration of childhood is the connection to knowledge and learning. This also means that evolution had to come up with a solution to allow learning to happen along many years before autonomy steps in. This might be why children are so dependent for such a long time (in general and looking at western society).
A revolution has been taken place in the understanding of our brains and how it evolves. This is based on findings of reverent Bayes on machine learning (based on probability theory) and started from why scientists come to results, and he put it in a mathematical model.Babies use the same mathematical model: babies make complicated mathematical equations that allow them to distill how the world works. To proof this hypothesis, Alison did some simple preschool statistic tests (with four year old's). In a short time, the 4 year old's found the correct probability measure, and they use these results to shape their world. The interesting thing here is that 4 year old's actually are better at finding improbable theories than adults do (GREAT stuff!).
Children actually do experimental research, but it is called ‘playing’.
Adult cognition is different from child’s cognition, as the adults are much less open, very focused, purposed driven span of attention. Children are less focused, but more open, holistic information intake. So they are flooded by synapse dynamics.
Until you have done all that learning, you are vulnerable. Evolution enables us to learn.
At times adults consciousness can expand and meeting the children’s consciousness: this happens when we are in a completely new situation (in love in Paris after 3 double espresso’s).
So if we – as humans want to achieve the openness of mind that will enable us to come up with new hypothesis in a matter of instants, we – as adults need to think more like children again.