Human beings are social creatures and start learning about the physical and social environment which they are born into almost as soon as they are born. The environment in which they live and interact with people expands as they grow ending up by spanning the globe if they end up working for a globetrotting conglomerate for example. Thanks to globalization, the ease of travel and modern technology everyone now “lives” in the whole world and is expected to be able to function in it. However, learning about this vast physical and social environment has also become much harder. In the modern world, this learning can be direct or indirect and for most it is a combination of both.
The oldest and best way to learn about the world in which we are living is through direct experience. Nothing can beat actually going to Australia and trekking across the outback to learn about the country so that you never forget it. Nothing can compare to going to Norway to watch the northern lights – aurora borealis. The learning that takes place through hands on experience is more lasting and resistant to forgetting. This is why practice is an important part of teaching and learning in all walks of life. A second advantage of hands on experience is the enthusiasm and joy it produces. This is because direct experience multisensory: a person can smell the air, touch the plants, hear the sounds of nature and the like. In short, direct experience is by far the best way of learning yet it is not always possible.
Unfortunately it is not always possible to travel to Norway or Australia as it can be expensive, time consuming or impractical. When such is the case, a substitute to the direct approach becomes necessary and thanks to modern technology, people can have what is very close to an actual experience in the comfort of their living rooms. Modern 3D televisions bring scenes from all over the world alive. Cable networks provide a wealth of experience broadening everybody’s horizons. There is also the internet, and especially social media, which is destroying boundaries and providing a wealth of information. Daily news on the internet now involves as many videos as articles appealing to all the senses very much like real experience. Indirect learning of this kind is definitely a second best but it is a very close second with the distinctions blurring every day.
In the future, we may be able to put on a headset like gamers wear and actually feel we are in Peru visiting Machu Pichu. Since the technology is already available, it is only a matter of time until we “visit St Petersburg” before supper. This kind of experience will probably make direct learning completely obsolete. For now, however, direct learning and more indirect learning need to go hand in hand.