Learning vs. Memorization

By: Megan Prats


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese proverb

The aforementioned quote gracefully and concisely summarizes the difference between learning and memorizing – short and long-term consequences. Memorizing is literally shoving information into the student and then the student utilizes the information by regurgitating it. Learning, on the other hand, provides the student with the foundation to take the knowledge attained in the lesson and use it for the long-term. Also, learning provides the student with versatility and adaptability in the sense that the student will be able to use her knowledge in a wide variety of cases. Thus, if the student learns how to fish she will be able to catch fish even if it’s sunny, raining, cloudy, summer, winter, etc; whereas if she memorizes how to fish, she will only be able to catch fish in the same fashion as how she memorized to fish.

Memorizing also denies the student access to the infinite realm of knowledge because the brain can only store so much information. The brain purposefully denies a lot of information long-term memory access because it functions better when not cluttered with “useless” information. However, with learning, the student has access to the infinite realm of knowledge because the student does not have to rely on the brain’s limited information storing faculties to experience knowledge. Instead, the student can either look up or memorize a few things and then with her critical thinking skills, take those fundamental pieces and create limitless products from it.

In short, at 2learn® we do LEARNING and not memorizing because we are trying to prepare the student as best as possible for the real world. The student will be happiest with her learning experience at 2learn® if she experiences real world benefits from her time spent here. Thus, it is imperative that you do not do the following in your lessons:

  • focus on substance,


At 2learn® we spend the majority of the lesson focusing on critical thinking development instead of providing the student with substantive information because critical thinking development is where LEARNING occurs. Thus, it is of utmost importance that you do not act as a textbook in the lesson and use your time to provide the student with information that the student can read or learn for herself for homework. Instead, spend the majority of the time on asking the student questions and getting the student to problem-solve. Then, during that time, you can focus on how the student is problem-solving so that you can develop her critical thinking skills.

  • avoid repetition, and

Unfortunately, I had some language teacher interviews that didn’t materialize into teaching positions because the teachers’ approach to learning was having me repeat what they said without explanation or asking me questions. This approach is effective in immediate gratification of the student because the student, without thinking, can say what she wants to say in her foreign language immediately. However, the cost to this approach is detrimental in the sense that when the student wants to apply what she’s learned in speaking in her foreign language outside of the lesson, she will not be able to construct her own sentences and thus will be limited to the information stored in her memory. In short, if her memory fails her, she has nothing. Thus, having the student repeat what you say in the lesson is prohibited because it’s only benefit to the student is that the student experiences immediate gratification which has limited use when the student needs to apply what she’s learned in the real world.

  • avoid examples.

Examples in problem-solving can remove any opportunity to engage in critical thinking development because the student can memorize the steps to solving the problem and then arrive to the answer via memorization instead of her critical thinking skills. Thus, when you provide the student with a problem to solve, do not provide the student with an example as to how to solve it beforehand. Instead, guide the student to the answer via a series of questions. You can provide some demonstrations along the way to further explain a concept that the student didn’t understand but do not show the student how you would solve the problem.

A memorization approach to learning is unjust to you and the student. As a teacher, your job becomes a lot more fun when you can teach instead of promote regurgitation of information. Also, the student benefits from the long-term consequence of learning because now she can feed herself every day.

© Megan Prats 2014


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