Learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge or skills through studying, experiencing or being taught. This is not just what learning is. There is a social, cognitive and cultural aspect to learning as well. In the social cognitive theory propounded by Albert Bhandura, learning is said to be something that happens in a social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, their environment and their behaviour.
Another theorist, Vygotsky, propounded the sociocultural theory, saying that learning is a social process and social interaction plays a crucial role in it. The theory also says that the way people interact with each other and sense different cultures influence our learning abilities.
In the context of Covid-19, this interaction is missing, this environment is missing, this behaviour that facilitates study spaces is lacking, thereby impacting our learning patterns. Books, in themselves, are never sufficient to make us learn; an interaction around books also facilitates learning.
When we carried school (or college) bags, what we carried were ways to engage, jot down and unlearn, and perhaps, in all these, we carried hope! To feel whiteboards and blackboards, to feel words while they are written on a board, the engagement, the peer learning, the stipulated breaks, the engagement without staring at our screens, the talks with classmates, the giggles — all these made learning happen joyfully. To undraw the curtains and let that sun in, to slow down the speed of a fan and the last bell, the ‘May I come in’, eating each other’s lunch and learning together are missing.
Yes, in virtual classrooms we can see our professors virtually; we share screens, present our assignments, ask to be unmuted to participate, switch on the video and raise our virtual hand. But the classmate interactions and institutional spaces are missing. What Vygotsky calls the ‘zone of proximal development’ is lacking.
Now, coming to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our needs start from physiological needs of safety and security, of love and belonging, and of esteem, and finally reaches self-actualisation. Learning is a structured process and as we move from one need to another, one feels better in gathering knowledge and making oneself comfortable in doing so! The focus is of studying in a classroom environment is having a relationship between a student and a teacher, and not just on the amount of information or knowledge shared!
So, it is not the ‘Books that make us learn’,
‘It is the books and the people that facilitate learning’.
When ‘may I come in’ is replaced by ‘sign in to join class’ ,
When ‘textbooks’ are replaced by ‘laptops’,
May we keep in our minds that learning is not just about information and data but the social environment.