How do students learn best? What is the best way to learn?
As a current master’s degree student, I can say that the learning process in my bachelors was hard. It was hard not only because of complex subjects, but also the wrong method of teaching. I actually liked the way most of my professors used to teach. But the best was the project-based learning.
In this post, I will tell how do we, students, learn in the best way. I will also talk about the project-based learning and, why it is so effective. Hopefully, this post will be helpful to students and also to professors.
Learning new information and their dependent concepts:
Human mind has a basic structure. Learning something is either connecting the new information to a known information, or adding new information directly. Adding new information directly can only be done for basic knowledge such as a new language, a all new concept which is not related to anything and etc. This case mostly occurs for babies. For bachelor’s and master’s degree students, it is so rare. the subject that the high degree students learn are fully related to a previous knowledge. So, the student most know the base concept of newly learned information. If student knows the base concept, then the new information which is related to that concept can be learned.
Let’s assume that the student will learn the subject “Image Matching” from computer science. Student must know several subjects and concept before he/she learns it.
Previously necessary information for the will-be-learned information. From most complex to most basic:
2-dimensional convolution and correlation(signal processing), representation of images digitally (signal processing), matrix operations (linear algebra), arithmetic operations, definition of number. (There may be other subject to be learned previously. These are the ones that I guess.)
First, let’s assume that the student is in second of year computer science bachelor’s degree. This lets us to assume that the student’s most complex previous knowledge is matrix operations. So, the student must learn 2 subjects in signal processing which are convolution and correlation while he/she also needs to learn the representation of images digitally. The convolution and correlation operations can be done in time domain and frequency domain. If we want the student to learn extensively, then we teach both of these subjects. But for frequency domain, student must learn calculus. So, I would skip the convolution and correlation operations in frequency domain so that we can reach to our goal (teach image matching) faster.
If we do not teach the convolution and correlation in time domain to student as a previous knowledge, student’s brain will relate the image matching subject to another concept which may cause disturbance in learning of the subject accurately. If this happens, feedback process will take longer time.
Feedback in learning:
Let’s assume that the student learned the previous subject and the new subjects 100%. Can we say that we do not need feedback? Absolutely not! Human brain forgets the information so easily, because it always tries to avoid keeping “unnecessary” knowledge. Even though we teach and student learns perfect, he/she must get a feedback.
Example: Student learns the subject 100%. Student is asked to explain the subject. He/she tells the subject by cause and effect relationship.
Case 1: One cause he tells for an effect is missing. So, the learned effect is wrong.
Case 2: One cause he tells for an effect is slightly or dramatically wrong. So, the learned effect is wrong.
Case 3: One cause he tells for an effect is the effect of another previous cause. The concept relation he/she made in his brain for previous cause is wrong. So, the cause is misunderstood, which then causes the last effect to be wrong.
When we learn a subject, we create dozens of cause and effect relationship in our brain. Even though the probability of a failure is so low, the effect of probability is pretty high. Because one small failure in the chain of cause and effect relationship may cause huge mistakes at the end.
How should we do the feedback in learning ?
We need to write the elements of the learned subject one-by-one from complex to basic. The elements should be explained in detail by cause and effect relationship. After that, each element should be asked to student. The student should explain each subject by cause and effect relationship. The cause and effect relationships he/she creates should be verified. They may be right but having another perspective. The different perspective should be examined carefully to check if the student actually related the sub-elements in subject to wrong concepts.
After the investigation, wrong outcomes should be corrected and taught to student.
Why the project-based learning is best?
The projects requires wide range of knowledge which are actually related to each other. When a project is assigned to a student, student needs to research and learn by himself/herself. This lets the brain learn easier, because the knowledge is not initiated by somebody else, but embraced by brain itself. This situation is great to make relations to previously learned concepts and create cause and effect relations. But, it has a deficit. If the student does not get feedback from his/her professor in a determined frequency, everything may go wrong so easily.
My own experience for project-based learning:
In my senior year in bachelor’s degree, I had several lectures and my final project. On of the lectures was image processing.
My image processing professor gave me a project to complete. The project is to implement an image processing method told in a scientific paper. I chose a paper which investigates focus measure operators. I had no idea about focus measure operators. These three words were completely alien to me. While we were having our lectures in image processing, I was also researching and learning about focus measure operators. They were basically edge detection methods. What I was learning in the lecture was also edge detection. I learned that the operations in time domain are done by filtering kernels (Example: 3x3 matrices). So, every mathematically weird looking method with all those weird mathematical symbols started becoming easier to understand. Because, I related the edge detection to a basic concept which is matrix. I was not seeing those formulas as weird mathematical symbols anymore. I was seeing them as moving, multiplying, subtracting, summing and dividing natural numbers.
I learned and implemented the methods in paper. I understood them all. Plus to that, I started seeing the deficits in those methods, because of concept relation I made. I created a new method to detect edges and measure the focus. The lecture’s professor and some other professors liked the new method I developed a lot.
Recently, I developed a machine learning algorithm that uses same filtering kernel concept. Surprisingly, nobody has done it before. When I tell it to people, they find it too complex. But to me, it is nothing more than moving and operating arithmetically numbers.
Thanks to my image processing professor Mehmet Türkan.
Tekin Evrim Özmermer