Rote vs Experiential Learning

September 23, 2021

It is a fact that mental ability to memorize is often used as an indicator of intelligence. Though they are strongly linked, working memory does not directly affect the level of intelligence of a student. “Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” This Einstein's quote makes us to ponder on our method of learning and the current system of evaluation of a students’ abilities/skills. Everyone has a different ability or particular competence and comparing an individual to someone else's abilities may overlook the capacity of the individual where he is best suited to perform. In other words, it is better to stop being a fish trying to climb a tree and embrace to piscine pursuits.

Learning is the road to intelligence and the method of learning is the launchpad for successful life. If you want to be intelligent, you have to learn how to be intelligent. If you want to be good at a particular sport, you have to learn how to be good at a particular sport. And just remembering is not enough. Memories of your knowledge and information needs to have instructions on how to use that knowledge and information effectively and efficiently. In order to drive this point home let us compare Rote Learning and Experiential Learning methods.

Rote learning is defined as learning by memorization of information by repeating it a number of times (by writing or reading). Here, information is stored in the brain without necessarily understanding it. One should be able to recall information quicker the more one repeats it. The two best examples of rote learning are remembering alphabets and numbers. Slightly more complex examples include reciting multiplication tables or the periodic table of elements and spelling words from memory. Rote learning enhances students’ ability to quickly recall basic facts and helps develop foundational knowledge of a topic. The disadvantage of rote learning is that it can be repetitive, it’s easy to lose focus and it doesn’t allow for a deeper understanding of a topic. Rote memorization isn’t considered higher-level thinking or critical thinking since students don’t learn how to think, analyze or solve problems with this type of learning.

Rote learning is thought of as an outdated technique and is being abandoned for newer techniques such as associative learning, metacognition, and critical thinking instead of being used as a functional foundation to higher levels of learning. Teachers are mostly disapproved for “teaching from exam point of view,” referring to standard evaluation methods, and are criticized for applying rote memorization as a foundational skill. Rote learning is necessary if you want to engage in higher-level thinking and advanced learning. For example can we work on calculus or engineering-mathematics or even basic algebra, if we have to constantly remember how to multiply or look up functions and operations? The same principles apply to spelling as it is still important even though we use spellcheck and word processors when filling out forms and writing letters. Knowing how to spell makes writing easier and faster.

To truly engage in higher level thinking, students must first learn basic information and memorize this information so they can refer to it later down the road when dealing with more advanced lessons and learning. Memory is not a strong indicator of intelligence. Instead, it is linked to interaction of environmental factors and training. It’s always useful to apply effective and sound relationships to basic skills. In the end, rote learning plays a bigger role than most educators would recognize in today’s learning environment.

Experiential learning is an engaged learning process whereby students “learn by doing” and by reflecting on the experience. Experiential learning pedagogy can include, hands-on laboratory experiments, internships, practical, field exercises, case studies, research projects and role plays.

The way you learn is the way you approach life in general. It is also the way you solve problems, make decisions, and face life’s challenges. Learning occurs in any setting and continues throughout your life. The experiential learning process supports improved performance, learning and development. Well-planned, supervised and assessed experiential learning programs can stimulate academic inquiry by promoting interdisciplinary learning, civic engagement, career development, cultural awareness, leadership, and other professional and intellectual skills.

David Allen Kolb an American educational theorist whose interests and publications focus on experiential learning put forth the experiential learning cycle which is a four-step learning process that is applied multiple times in every interaction and experience i.e. Experience – Reflect – Think – Act. It’s a learning process initiated by a concrete experience, which demands reflection, review and perspective-taking from the experience; then abstract thinking to reach conclusions and conceptualize the meaning of the experience; leading to a decision to act, engaging in active experimentation or trying out what you’ve learned. This cycle is so natural and organic that learners engage in it without being aware that they are learning.

Learners develop preferences for how they use the learning cycle based on personality, educational specialization, professional career, culture, and adaptive competencies. The Kolb Learning Style Inventory (LINK) describes nine different ways of navigating the experiential learning cycle by learning styles which are Experiencing, Imagining, Reflecting, Analyzing, Thinking, Deciding, Acting, Initiating and Balancing.

MHRD has recently put forward the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) in which reforming the current education method and aligning it more with globally accepted education norms is one of the objectives. Specifically NEP 2020 shifts the focus from the traditionally used system of rote-learning, which has been the norm in India, to a system based on experiential learning and conceptual understanding, which would help students apply their knowledge in addressing real world situations. For many years, educators across the globe have made efforts to drive the point that experiential learning method built on the foundations of rote memorization is helpful to students to succeed in their daily lives as global citizens of the future.




By R G D'Souza
R G D’Souza is the principal of Yenepoya Institute of Technology.
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Comment on this article

  • savious crasta, mangalore/Doha-Qatar

    Tue, Sep 28 2021

    Dear Rajesh sir, very nice article. very nicely described learning methodology to live in this current competitive world. it will be great helpful to students.

  • Ravindra Naik, Manglore

    Sat, Sep 25 2021

    Very nice

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