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The main differences in knowledge described in Chapter 2 are of an organizational or structural character and they are related to corresponding differences in the approach to the content of the task. Here we shall discuss skill in learning by further exploring the concept of organization.
The centrality of organization to skill in learning will be examined through a consideration of the learning of three different and successively more complex kinds of subject-matter: learning combinations of signs, learning facts, and learning organized wholes.
Learning Combinations of Signs The aim of this brief section on combinations of signs is not to emphasize the learning of such material but to provide a background to the description of learning of facts and organized wholes. In dealing with the question of learning, we shall first describe and discuss the skill of performing a task and then we shall comment on what might be learned from performing the task. Organizing and memorizing combinations of signs The work of Ebbinghaus (1913) represents an early tradition within the psychology of learning which shed light on the understanding of remembering. However, it is both difficult for an experimenter to devise learning materials devoid of meaning and for individuals to set about memorizing these meaningless materials, and this tells us something important. It is very difficult — perhaps even impossible — to remember something without any organization or meaning. To try to do so seems to be contrary to the very nature of human activity. Indeed, when individuals attempt to learn what we shall call combinations of signs, they do so through the creation of organization and meaning. Combinations of signs, such as lists of nonsense syllables, do in fact have a very elementary organization, in that they are ordered in a sequence.
However, to use only this organization leads to a poor 58 THE EXPERIENCE OF LEARNING performance in reciting the combination.
Paradoxically, skill in reproduc- ing combinations of signs seems to depend on investing them with organization and meaning.
Although people good at remembering use very different and individual approaches, they all rely both on organizing the units of the learning material systematically, and on giving specific meaning to the units.
Both organization and meaning, then, are fundamental to remembering. We can illustrate the importance of organization to remembering by analysing an experiment described by Katona (1945) in his discussion of two main processes of learning, learning by memorizing and learning by organizing. This material can be organized in different ways, representing differences in the skills of dealing with and reciting the material. If help write essay for me you try to do this yourself, it becomes obvious that it is very difficult to remember the series. After a short period of interaction with the material, nine of the ten adults could reproduce the series. This illustrates the marked effect brought about by the simple organization of grouping compared to memorizing the figures as a series of isolated items. However, we should also note that when asked one week later if they still remembered the figures the subjects considered the question unfair as they had not been told that they would be asked to recite the figures at a later date. Miller (1956) has subsequently clearly described the import- ance of help write essay for me grouping to remembering.
Some of them then discovered a regularity in the series.
They found that the series could be structured in a series of numbers from lower to higher with alternating differences of 3 and 4 between numbers, as follows: 5 8 12 15 19 22 26 3 4 3 4 3 4 Those who help write essay for me discovered this principle of organization returned the material to the experimenter. They did not need to repeat the series and they were able to reproduce it without any faults. One week later they could help write essay for me still reproduce the series and after four weeks had elapsed three out of five still remembered the principle although only one of them could remember that the first figure was 5. In the first case, the figures are isolated and the organization is built on sequence only. Recalling the whole depends on remembering the figures in order. In the second case, grouping is the organizing principle and this means that the whole is a series of four groups.
This changes the relation between whole and parts as well as between parts by introducing a level of organization between the figures and the series as a whole. The third way of treating the material also depends upon a grouping of the figures, but the grouping is not arbitrary — it is in accordance with a distinct principle. In our definition, these three ways of treating the material represent three main types of skills. Learning from organizing and memorizing signs It is apparent that the differences in organization are not only linked to differences in how easily the series of figures is learned but also to differences in what is learned through those skills. What is learned is either the arrangement of the figures help write essay for me merely in sequence, a grouping of the figures or an organization of the figures according to a principle.
What has been learned assumes greater importance if it also includes the skill of learning this kind of material.
The skill which might have been developed is the skill of grouping the material or of finding and using an organizing principle.
Learning Facts Facts differ from combinations of signs in that they refer to parts of the surrounding world. Unlike, for example, nonsense syllables, facts have an inherent meaning. Indeed, referential meaning is a basic characteristic of a stated fact.
As we shall see, organization is fundamental in the learning of facts, as it was in the learning of combinations of signs. In the learning of facts, however, organization is bound up with referential meaning. Where, as here, the series of figures is treated as a part of a fact, skill takes on a different meaning.
The series of figures is attended to as a whole, as a sum of money, and moreover as a specific sum related to a part of reality.
And in 60 THE EXPERIENCE OF LEARNING contrast to the case of remembering signs, the figures are not given equal importance, for although they are still in the same order, there is a gradual decrease in the importance of the exact figures as we move from the beginning to the end of the series. This decrease in importance is determined, of course, by the meaning which the figures now have. Thus we see how organization and referential meaning together constitute the fact.
The organizing principle is therefore not, as in the previous case, simply a mnemonic device dependent on grouping the signs or on discovering the alternating differences of 3 and 4.