Heuristics: The Importance of Learning how to Learn

Levi Gorden, Student Writer

Education, a system not only essential for the well-being of a state, but crucial for the enlightenment of the masses. The reason education was originally diffused to the common people was to create a smarter, more enlightened society. Founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson found it essential that all students be given a chance to show their academic worth through a primary schooling system. We have since advanced past the ideas originally posited by our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson, while he did hold radical ideas about egalitarianism in education, still believed that any student that didn’t show immense academic potential within the first 2-4 years of schooling shouldn’t have been able to continue. We have obviously advanced past this impractical, elitist way of thinking, mainly through the realization that by dismissing everyone but the very best we are ignoring the potential of the majority. However, this potential is usually not fully realized. In a poll conducted by Live Science, 60% of students said they saw very little value in what they were learning. This leads to the potential existence of two problems, 1. Students are being taught meaningless lessons in school, 2. Students are not being taught how to effectively and enjoyably learn. The rest of this paper will be focused on the latter of these problems, as I believe it to be closer to the truth as well as a more interesting discussion.

Heuristic is an Ancient Greek term for “enabling someone to discover or learn something for themselves”. Heuristics are tools used for problem solving, mental shortcuts designed to allow one to make quick decisions while reducing mental effort. These make them a cornerstone in evocative and inspirational learning. These is why teaching rules and concepts, especially in fields like math and science, is such a prevalent strategy. By allowing students to effectively learn methods and patterns instead of facts, you are playing to the primal part of the human mind specifically built for pattern recognition. This naturally drives intrigue and is much less mentally taxing than the memorization of related facts. The development of these skills also greatly aids learning in all forms. this is the importance of learning how to learn. In order to have a more learned and enlightened society, we must push the development of heuristics. The old model of learning has shown that it does not work in our modern age. Learning needs to be made enticing, the hunger for knowledge is a fire that needs to be stoked. Piling massive amounts of information upon an open mind only serves to smother that fire. By teaching students how to efficiently learn we can create a culture of learning, one where students are able to put great value in what they are being taught. The question “when will I ever use this” will never again be uttered, as people will better understand that knowledge inherently has value.

Heuristic learning can be very easily applied within a classroom. By giving students small worksheets at the beginning of class that they can fill out without direction, we can easily apply a small bit of heuristics. By allowing the student to think and solve problems using only prior knowledge and their problem solving skills, we can develop a healthy habit. And by giving them no penalty for failure with these worksheets, we are encouraging the recreational use of these skills. Consider it like a brain teaser or a sudoku puzzle, a brain exercise people do because they find enjoyment in solving it. Even if students do poorly on these worksheets, they still work as an indicator of what needs to be taught more explicitly. Along with giving those experiencing difficulty an easy ‘aha’ moment as the answer is revealed. This is a relatively small application of heuristic learning with clear potential, showing the possible benefit of more advanced heuristic learning within classrooms.

In conclusion, the value of heuristics must be recognized in schools. It is our nature as people to want to learn more, our brain’s enjoyment of patterns is clear evidence. But students are not being taught how to learn, only what is “valuable” to learn. The use of heuristics not only teaches students the value of learning, but makes learning significantly easier. Ushering in a much higher standard of learning, and a much greater potential for development.