Rote learning is learning by memorizing rather than thinking and reasoning. While handy in some situations, rote learning isn’t the most effective learning process.
Most of us were exposed to rote learning early in our life when we memorized the alphabet, numbers, multiplication tables, and formulas. This often carries into high school as well, when we are fed dates, names, and grammatical rules. This habit can, unfortunately, carry on till much later when we are so used to being given information and simply using it, we don’t think about the logic behind the information itself.
In today’s world, there needs to be a conscious shift of processes so that we reduce our dependence on memorizing and move towards learning based on understanding. While there are proponents of rote learning who present solid arguments in favor of the method, meaningful learning discourages it as it presents no opportunity to think and reason.
Rote learning is acceptable for memorizing dates, names, numbers, and other information that has no meaning but is still important for quick recall. It is when this carries forward to learning that should be approached meaningfully that problems arise.
Reasons rote learning is not the most effective way to learn are many and varied and all are valid. However, when arguing the merits of rote memorization over meaningful thinking, one needs to keep the following points against rote learning in mind:
1. Promotes Convergent Thinking
Rote learning trains a mind to solve problems with a single answer that is right, as opposed to meaningful thinking, which allows the mind to solve problems and reach different solutions.
When presented with a simple multiplication problem, a rote learner will always jump to the answer by recall, while a person using divergent thinking will arrive at the same answer through different methods.
2. Denies Exploring Different Options
A teacher presenting information to students in a manner that doesn’t allow or encourage questioning and divergent thinking is encouraging rote learning.
When learning by rote, learners are given the answer to a question, and that’s the only answer they know.
Unless the question is a mathematical one, there may be more than one answer that is correct, but the rote learner will never develop the ability to explore the options that lead to the different answer.
3. Makes People Passive Learners
Rote learners never learn to question and explore. Their minds are trained to receive information and recall it at the right time.
These people develop their listening and writing skills, but not their thinking and questioning skills. Taken out of their comfort zone, passive learners will be quiet and disinterested in the proceedings around them.
4. Makes People Followers, Not Leaders
Because rote learning is the drilling of specific information, people exposed to this system are used to following instructions without having the freedom to think for themselves and reach the same conclusion a different way, or even to explore a different solution altogether.
5. Not Allowing Connections to Form
Since rote learning teaches just one answer, people who learn like this cannot make mental connections between the knowledge they already have, and reaching a solution to the problem they are working on.
Many times, rote learners can reach the same conclusion through different means or make mental connections to reach a whole new answer that may still be correct. However, since they’re not exposed to the alternate methods, they fail to recognize the opportunity and think only of the solution they have been taught.
Another way to phrase this could be “learning from experience.” A student who understands history will know why the world is the way it is and, based on past events, can guess what will happen in the future. However, one who has only learned dates and events cannot do the same.
6. It Is Short-Term
Rote learning promotes short-term memory. Apart from certain exceptions, like the times tables and period table values, most rote learning is for those who want the knowledge for a certain purpose and doesn’t promote holding information in your long-term memory.
For example, a student might learn the Pythagoras Theorem for an exam but will almost immediately forget the instances in which the theorem might be used.
7. Doesn’t Promote Deeper Understanding
Rote learning can be considered a “quick-fix” solution to gaining knowledge.
It is the lazy person’s answer to teaching and learning. The teacher will inform the students of the answer to a particular problem without really explaining how the answer was reached or encouraging the students to find the answer for themselves.
The students, on the other hand, will accept the teacher’s version of the answer without questioning the method. And if presented the same question in a different manner, they will not be able to solve it, even though they “know” the answer.
The grasp a student has on the subject is limited to how detailed the answer is, and in most cases, it is not very much.
If a particular question might require solutions from a different angle, the student will never be able to answer it because s/he has not been taught to.
8. It Is Geared Towards Scoring
Learning should be something that promotes understanding and bases knowledge gained on how problems are approached and solved.
In the rote learning method, the emphasis is on getting a higher score. Exams are marked on a student’s answer to a question, not his/her understanding of it. This means a student may have aced a certain subject without having full understanding of it.
9. It Is Repetitive
Since rote learning is nothing but memorizing information, it relies heavily on information based on repetition.
The learner needs to constantly reinforce a certain bit of knowledge and this repetition stifles thought exploration and creativity when finding answers to a problem.
10. Doesn’t Challenge the Brain
Rote learning presents an answer to the learner and expects them to learn it and reproduce it as required; whereas meaningful thinking challenges the learner to “prove it.”
In meaningful thinking, the burden of proving the answer lies firmly on the learners, and they need to come up with a plausible explanation for the conclusion they reached.
On the other hand, in rote learning, there is nothing for the learner to prove. They have been provided the answer and know it’s right, so they are well within their comfort zone when presenting a solution.
12. Discourages Social Skills
Group studies, research, and other factors that make up meaningful learning encourage socialization and learning from peers.
Rote learning has the opposite effect because information has already been transferred by a single source, and it is the only one that is acceptable. This discourages discussions and further learning from social interactions.
What I would like to clarify is that rote learning and meaningful learning are two sides of the same coin. They bridge the learning gap.
There are some instances when rote learning is the only way to learn, whether it is because of the nature of the topic taught or because it is the only way a student can learn.
However, it is very important to recognize that rote learning is not the most effective way to learn most things. Meaningful learning, where the learner is taught to question, analyze, and arrive at a solution from a different angle is how true learning takes place.
More Tips About Effective Learning
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