When we talk of learning, what exactly is it that we talk about? There may be many things that one may draw reference to, nonetheless, there is a likelihood that amongst other things, knowledge and the process of acquiring the same would come through as being common. These two can be understood from many divergent ontological and epistemological viewpoints. The commonality remains in the fundamental structure of learning – let there be knowledge and a pathway to it.
When one engages in the act of learning, they come with an expectation to go through some process that culminates into the acquisition of knowledge. They come to seek the unconcealment. This expectation is their way of acknowledging their knowledge of their lack of it. This acknowledgement can take either form of being voluntary or involuntary. The act of learning is an attempt to unlearn their lack of knowledge in order for them to obtain it, synonymous with an attempt to deconstruct before construction. The process of unlearning the lack of knowledge can be a conscious one such as when one embarks on a journey to learn a particular subject. It could also be a subconscious one under which most natural learning takes place such as learning to breathe. The process could also be experiential, a duality of both the conscious and subconscious processes such as when one, in the course of learning a particular subject, ends up learning the medium of instruction too. The conscious process is a function of rational thought while the subconscious is beyond the scope of control being second to nature. One must either deliberately commit their rational self to the learning process or circumstances will enforce the learning. Either way, learning occurs.
Ellen Langer in her ‘Mindful Learning’ paper sets forth the concept of mindful learning which she distinguishes from mindless learning. She describes mindful learning as being characterized by open, uninhibited responses to contextual stimuli. This, she sets aside from mindless learning, the kind of which is routine-based and akin to programmed responses to stimuli. Accordingly, when one learns that 1+1 must equal to 2, they have mindlessly learnt and the result of this operation becomes second to nature. On the other hand, when one learns that 1+1 could equal to 2, they have mindfully learnt as this operation could take on a wide range of values depending on the context.
It is clear, at this point, that Langer’s distinction is drawn from the process aspect of learning, particularly, the availability of control and lack thereof in the mindful and mindless learning processes respectively.
Under mindless learning, when one decides to go and learn what 1+1 yields and not what subject-verb agreement means, it needs to be pointed out that, clearly, they are in control. However, as the learnt knowledge becomes second to nature when 1+1 must equal to 2 at all times, the scope of control yields in to the subconscious. This can be seen to demonstrate that mindless learning could be a blend of both the conscious and subconscious processes. On the other hand, the mindful learning process can be seen to be a predominantly conscious undertaking. This seems to suggest that the classification of learning into either mindful or mindless ignores the existence of a third kind of classification, namely, the purely subconscious learning.
The symbiotic relationship between the conscious and subconscious as demonstrated in the mindless learning process seems to suggest the existence of a totality whose essence can not remain the same if the entity is broken.
It is important to note that the presence of control to initiate the mindless learning process seems to remotely suggest there being some mindful learning at play. Further, the mindful learning process seems to have subtle elements of ‘second to nature’ mindless learning such as the addition operation in the 1+1 learning example. Much as the individual values of 1 could be contextual, the addition operation may not. This begs the question; is mindful and mindless learning not a duality? Mindful learning seems to make possible mindless learning in much the same way that the latter sets forth the former.