When we focus on learning, we usually focus on what we are including in our reasoning (learning and knowledge acquisition are often seen as similar concepts). Most often, we associate learning with gaining. Lately, I’m finding increased value in determining the role of exclusion in learning. What we choose to exclude in order to learn may provide as much information as what we actually include.
It’s commonly accepted that our learning filters through some type of framework. This framework is an aggregation of personal beliefs, experiences, existing knowledge, and emotional intelligence. As an example, (if we can briefly utilize stereotypes for illustration purposes) conservatives are usually perceived as business focused, whereas liberals are perceived as people (or social issue) focused. These political worldviews shape and influence the type of information that penetrates into our active region of thinking and deliberation.
Often, we exclude from thought those concepts which are strongly antagonistic to views we already hold. Back to the stereotypes of conservatives/liberals – when these two groups engage in dialogue, they are largely speaking past each other. Instead of embracing each other in an attempt to understand what is really being said, the debate centers on what each party has included in their thinking…while focusing on what the other party has excluded in their thinking. The conservative promotes the value of business, the liberal the value of social structures. The conservative criticizes the liberal’s lack of business focus; the liberal criticizes the conservative’s lack of social focus. We argue our points of inclusion and criticize the points of exclusion in the reasoning of others.
Similarly, we are uniquely susceptible to logical fallacies in domains in which we have strong beliefs. The stronger our beliefs, the more susceptible we are to fallacies. Moving back to politics – we are often very forgiving of errors within our personal party. We are not very compassionate to errors in “the other party”. This is particularly the case when we are espousing personal theories. When I’m discussing connectivism with colleagues, I’m aware of my willingness to forgive cognitive conflicts in my own theory. I’m much more critical of the shortcomings of behaviourism, cognitivism, or constructivism. Why is that? Why do our cognitive processes function in a domino fashion (see Ideas as Corridors)? Why is it so hard for liberals to see value in conservative views (and vice versa)?
The process of exclusion is a vital learning process. We cannot possibly consider every facet of a new idea. We exclude in order to be able to move to the point of active cognitive interaction with an idea. Exclusion occurs during the filtering process. What we choose to ignore speaks to our larger worldview (beliefs and values). When we are trying to influence the values of others (for example, in helping students learn about other cultures), we spend our time trying to get the learner to acquire new mindsets. We need to take a step back and focus on what is happening during the filtering process.
By analyzing what we exclude in our own reasoning, we are able to gain a better understand of our own learning process. It’s unrealistic to regularly evaluate our core beliefs and values, but a periodic evaluation may provide the ability for more effective learning in general. What we ignore in learning can be a valuable tool to ensure that our perspectives are properly balanced (and at minimum acknowledge the existence of other viewpoints contrary to our own). Sometimes, the ability to step out of our thought corridor, and into the corridor of an “opponent”, can lead to deep insight and understanding. Not all learning (or cognitive activity) is logical. The choice to include/exclude information may be the point were emotional intelligence exerts its greatest influence. Thoughts?