Input and Output

by Christopher Gooch
Winsights No. 81 (March 2005)

If you understand all the concepts presented in Dr. Wenger’s article, Feeding the Loop, you will understand everything behind his techniques, everything that’s wrong with the accelerated learning movement, and how we learn everything. So I suggest that, if you haven’t yet done so, you sit down and read that article. If, however, you have already read it, yet you haven’t fully grasped it, keep reading this article.

There are, and have been throughout history, two schools of thought. One says that we get and learn everything we need through experience alone. John Locke was a proponent of this theory, and he suggested that the mind, before experiencing anything, is like a blank slate. The other theory, which was held by Locke’s contemporary, Rene Descartes, is that we have innate ideas implanted inside us. This theory stresses that the things we learn are obtained by reason, and reasoning things out.

So, to simplify it even further, one is practical and focused on experiencing things, while the other is theoretical and concerned with reasoning out abstract theories. One stresses practice and purports experience, the other theory and reason.

It turns out, though, that experience alone is not enough to bring understanding and learning, nor is it reason alone. It is the conscious internalizing of what one experiences — through our faculty of reason (or the mind). So what brings understanding and learning is the combination of the two.

How is that internalizing accomplished? When we receive feedback about something we experienced, we have internalized it.

However, it is further complicated because there are two different types of feedback — external and internal. External feedback is that which we receive from the outside world — touching, feeling, hearing, seeing, and smelling anything in person. Internal feedback, on the other hand, is that which we receive from our inner world — from what we actively do, of ourselves.

For instance, we get external sensory feedback from hearing something or reading it, while we get internal feedback from something that we do — when we speak, for example, we get feedback from doing so. External feedback is feedback we get from something we perceive, while internal feedback is feedback we get from something we do. External feedback may come from reading a book, watching a video, hearing a lecture, etc.; it comes from feedback that comes from inputting.

Internal feedback can thus come from thinking, speaking, acting, writing, and so on; it is feedback we get from outputting (not only physically or audibly outputting — thinking and writing are considered output in this sense).

Though the information usually comes from external feedback, the only way we can learn and understand something is if it comes in with the internal feedback. It must be noted that internal feedback is not enough — everything we experience in life comes back as internal feedback. But only a small portion of it is conscious internal feedback.

If we only learn something when it comes with the internal conscious feedback, you may hear that “Dogs are animals,” but until you actually think the thought (or speak it, or whatever), you can never understand it. Of course, understanding something doesn’t mean that you agree with it. In order for you to understand something, it has to ride in off the feedback you receive from your own actions.

At the same time, it is not just any of our actions that give us this positive, conscious, internal feedback. If we are forced to mindlessly repeat “dogs are animals” a hundred times a day like a mantra, it does follow that we should really understand that fact. So in order for it to be effective and conducive to real learning, our actions should be done of our own will and volition.

What it really boils down to is this:  though the inputting is important, it is only when we output it that we actually learn. Regardless that the method of inputting may be anything (and some methods of input may have more virtue than others), no real learning occurs until we actually voluntarily output whatever it is that we want to learn. On the one hand, the input is significant because without the input there would be no learning, but at the same time the stress should not be placed on the input but on the output, because that is where the real learning occurs.

Once you understand this, you will understand everything that is wrong about the public and most of the private school systems. The public (and some private) schools try to shove the information down the students’ throats through various inputting methods. But the students will never learn the information until they start outputting it! This is why so many of the public and private school students fail. The ones that succeed have somehow willingly and consciously output the information (through thinking about it, writing about it, speaking about it, drawing it, etc.).

Certainly accelerated learning has developed many advanced and far faster methods of input than the usual ones. And, though the majority of them are coupled with effective outputting techniques (to facilitate real learning), many times people lose the correct focus on the output. Not to disparage the accelerated learning movement (far from it), we have to remember that real learning comes when we receive conscious internal feedback from our own voluntary output.

That’s not to say that the inputting is unimportant. It is vital. But the inputting is useless unless the information is consciously internalized and becomes yours through outputting.

Why is this? It has to come from you. We place much more importance upon something that comes from ourselves than that which comes from other sources. The plain fact is, it must come from you if you are going to learn and understand it. And so, everything we’ve learned in life has come from our outputting.

Countless ways of outputting exist, including Image Streaming, Freenoting, Windtunneling and other of Dr. Wenger’s techniques. When these (as well as other ways of output) are coupled with effective inputting methods, real learning — learning that brings understanding — will occur.

How can we take advantage of understanding the model of how we learn? How does it revolutionize the way we learn? How can we apply it?

First, don’t overstress the input, yet don’t downplay it. Input and output are both necessary, and if we use only one, no learning can or will take place.

Second, shift the focus to our own outputs and the fact that in order to learn, we have to receive conscious feedback from our own sources. (Refer to the diagram of the model in Feeding the Loop.) Once the information has been input, through whatever method, output it somehow.

As far as output is concerned, there are innumerable techniques at your disposal — not only Dr. Wenger’s Image Streaming (and all its variations), Freenoting, Windtunneling and other procedures, but just plain old thinking, discussing, debating, writing, speaking, drawing, as well as mindmapping (which is great for summarizing — and, at the same time, is an output that involves the creative side of the brain).

Another is the simple idea of teaching the subject to someone far younger than you — which helps you understand it not only because it is a willful output, but also because you have to clearly explain complicated topics so that someone with a lower vocabulary can understand it). The ways of outputting, as well as inputting, are almost limitless.

Hopefully you now understand the significance of Dr. Wenger’s article, Feeding the Loop, and have a much better model for understanding how we learn. If you really employ this model when you learn — stressing the combination of input and output — your learning speed will take quantum leaps!