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This chapter reviews the basics of cognition, showing how old ideas about learning as storehouses of information, standing at the ready to address problems, have given way to much more complex notions about how our brains make meaning of information by attaching it – or not – to existing mental models. Meaning-making is not only vital to our survival as a species but also presents a challenge to our cognitive development. How we change our mental models is known as transformative learning, arguably the most important theory on adult learning in the last half-century.
This chapter explores the importance of critical reflection on human experience. Critical reflection is not an innate human quality and so must be cultivated. What distinguishes critical reflection from simple reflection is the assessment of one’s assumptions, especially hegemonic assumptions, those deeply ingrained presumptions about existing power relationships in society. Critical reflection is important throughout all aspects of human learning, including the development of expertise and the incidental learning that happens every day, usually below our conscious awareness.
Deep learning changes one’s perspective on how the world works and, by extension, how one should be in the world. Thus, whenever new knowledge threatens to disturb the existing political equilibrium, learning becomes a political act. This chapter considers the work of Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, Michel Foucault, and John Dewey, and ends with four recommendations for making political dynamics more conducive to deep learning: identify existing systems of power relationships, surface hegemonic assumptions, speak truth to power, and cultivate procedural justice.
Given the accelerating pace of information available in today’s world, our ability to be able to reflect critically on this information is more important today than ever before; but with the growth of social media and its unfortunate consequences – “fake news,” “post-truth,” and “truth decay” – critical reflection has become harder and harder to do. This apparent paradox, why “facts” and “evidence” seem to have so little effect on rational behavior, is explored, along with the research evidence on the self-reinforcing nature of confirmation bias and its sequelae, belief persistence, polarization, and tribalism.
“Constructive disorientation” is a feeling of arousal brought about by a perceived disconnect between the current and a desired state, accompanied by a sense of efficacy that one is capable of dealing with that disconnect. The chapter discusses the qualities that make disorientation “constructive,” and ways of promoting constructive disorientation in others: posing a clear but manageable challenge, allowing flexibility in managing that challenge, providing an environment conducive to “deep work,” and communicating the freedom to fail.
The central message of this chapter is Socrates’ dictum, “know thyself first.” We must know ourselves before presuming to think that we are in any position to influence others. The now-bulging literature on personal and organization development is explored and some integrating principles are offered for understanding how deep learning can be developed in ourselves and others. This includes cultivating mindfulness, a practice that allows us to interrupt knee-jerk reactions to stimuli that might lead to the assortment of cognitive biases that stand in the way of deep learning.
The importance of tension for deep learning has been a theme throughout the book. This chapter explores certain “essential tensions” – paradoxes that are not resolvable but require constant attention if they are to remain in a useful balance. Essential tensions include those between intuition and deliberation, the center and the edge, order and disruption, and the self and the other. Holding these tensions is vital for mindful – and hence deep – learning, and they require a dialectical way of thinking and being.
The research evidence is unmistakable: deep learning is most powerful, and often necessary, in social discourse. Learning in the presence of others allows us to understand the world as others see it, and to try on perspectives that we would not have known about otherwise. Learning with others is perilous, often leading to the hardening of beliefs and attitudes, and so the chapter also includes a discussion of how social discourse can be most productive, focusing on four facilitators: empathy, social capital, participatory forms of engagement and learning, and minimal power differentials and shared responsibility.
Aesthetic experience is a compelling tool for social change. The arts can serve to create constructive disorientation in ways that probe our innermost values and bring them to the surface. The arts offer paths that are closed to logic and argument, and as such have enormous potential for promoting deep learning. The chapter includes examples from both visual and performing arts to show how, by inviting a vision of how things could be different, one is empowered to imagine how things might be different.
An integration is offered of the book’s previous chapters, shifting from a review of prevailing theories and empirical evidence to a more practical set of recommendations. How might I become a better deep learner? And, how might I encourage deep learning in others? Principles for cultivating a deep learning mindset include: (1) pay attention; (2) confront your biases; (3) engage the tensions; (4) maintain a humble curiosity; (5) see complexity everywhere and don’t let it scare you; (6) learn how to learn with others; (7) harness the power of politics; (8) invite disorientation through aesthetic experience; (9) engage in thought leadership.
Much has been written about the escalating intolerance of worldviews other than one's own. Reasoned arguments based on facts and data seem to have little impact in our increasingly post-truth culture dominated by social media, fake news, tribalism, and identity politics. Recent advances in the study of human cognition, however, offer insights on how to counter these troubling social trends. In this book, psychologist Jon F. Wergin calls upon recent research in learning theory, social psychology, politics, and the arts to show how a deep learning mindset can be developed in both oneself and others. Deep learning is an acceptance that our understanding of the world around us is only temporary and is subject to constant scrutiny. Someone who is committed to learning deeply does not simply react to experiences, but engages fully with that experience, knowing that the inevitable disquietude is what leads to efficacy in the world.
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