Socrates describes the student’s experience of education with undergoing a painful journey full of pain, self-doubt, and struggle, analogous to being ‘dragged’ out of a cave toward the light. In our current age, I feel that this transformative form of learning is still a very good representation of acquiring, understanding and applying new knowledge. This is because I believe that true deep learning requires, at least in part, the student to undergo a temporary period of confusion and struggle prior to grasping new concepts. This is especially true in contexts where the goal is to facilitate learning at higher cognitive levels. For example, I think that there is necessary struggle that a student experiences when learning how to understand, apply, or interpret content versus when learning how to simply recall or memorize information. This period of confusion and frustration is important because it encourages students to think in new and different ways, to critically assess novel information, and to integrate novel information within their existing knowledge base. With that said, I believe that educators have an important role here to ensure that students are provided with appropriate instruction, guidance, and support so that the frustration experienced during transformative learning is temporary. The idea is that under appropriate supervision by the instructor, the student should emerge from the transformative period with a strong and confident understanding of the new material. A clear example of this is my undergraduate laboratory course. Here, students are expected to design elements of their experiments, accurately interpret their data, and construct ideas for how to optimize methods. I can just tell students how to design their experiments or what their data means, but how will helpful is this for their learning? Instead, I provide them with learning tools and instruction they need to perform these tasks and they spend a period of time where they need to process and develop their critical thinking skills to meet the learning goals (of course, I’m always there to support them if they have questions!).
Based on question #3 in reference to Plato. Republic, translated by P. Shorey. Plato: Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, Random House, 1963, pp. 747-752.