Losing the Capacity for Experiential Learning

It seems that we are learning differently these days.  I know I am sounding like my grandmother, but when I grew up, much of the learning paradigm was based on trial and error.  This is not the case anymore.

When I got my first car and something went wrong, I didn’t really have anybody to ask what to do.  I had to go to a junkyard with my tools and figure out the problem by taking apart a wrecked version of my own car.  I would get the pieces I needed, go to the junkyard office, pay for them and be on my way.  I may have caused some havoc on that junkyard car, but I learned how things fit together.

Today things are different.  When I need to know how to do something with my car, I go onto the Internet and find a step-by-step procedure.  If it is still unclear, I can find videos that others have posted.  Am I being lazy?  Saving time?  Either way, the need for experiential learning has diminished.

The same thing goes on with my kids.  They’ve become fact experts because such facts are easily accessible on the web.

Because of this ease of access, I have seen an increased tendency to be satisfied with factual knowledge alone.  Actual hands-on attempts to put this information into practice are less frequently attempted.

For example, I have observed a remarkable deterioration in map-reading skills (or is it in patience with such a slow medium?) in friends who use a GPS.  Many individuals’ sense of direction seems to have declined too.  Some people even assume their GPS is always right and go contrary to their own sense of direction.

I worry that too many of us put our faith in these facts without proving their veracity. Because anyone can post an entry and call himself an “expert,” how are we sure those facts are truly correct? Today, with the help of the Internet and other “expert” sources, the problem seems not to be “how to” but rather what information to trust.  Unfortunately, we seem to even be entrusting our fact-checking to “experts” on the net.

Are we ceding our trust to those with the best informational dispersal systems and highest “like” count?  Have we lost the ability to learn by trial and error?  Are we becoming a nation of consensus-driven followers rather than one of explorers?

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