At first glance, the question seems to be more of a philosophical one — what is the difference between learning something and understanding it? However, the last few decades have made this question more relevant than ever, as Universities receive students who have learnt how to pass exams as a substitute to understanding the material – something that pains many academics. The reasons behind this are complex and surely worth studying in their own right.
This inevitably leads to a problem when students go to higher levels of education — they have learnt to court STEM subjects by learning using: heuristics, memorization and repetition. When presented with familiar material put into a new context they may stumble and fall. This seems to be a result of the ‘learn to pass’ instead of the ‘learn to understand’ outlook. The former gives students exam results, and the latter gives students with that, plus understanding of a concept they can later apply.
Richard Feynman was a person who was renowned for understanding things. Scientist, Engineer, Artist, Educator, Safecracker and occasional bongo player, I wondered if he had a particular way of thinking that led him to become successful in so many different areas.
Indeed he did, and his ideas have been wrapped up in something now called the “Feynman Technique.”
I’ve put together a short presentation and demonstration on this idea, and how Möbius can be used to push students to become critical of their own understanding, to build on it in an effort for them to become independent thinkers.