The difference between Academic and Intellectual Learning

The difference between Academic and Intellectual Learning Cover Image

While academic learning is indeed useful, there are cases when it can actually retard the intellectual development of the child. Here is the rundown.

It’s 8 in the evening and you are still stuck at work, wading through a last-minute report that needs to be submitted. The absolutely horrible thing about your situation is that you know a simpler and far easier way to solve the problem, one that doesn’t involve filing a long-winded report. Your boss however wants one because the million dollar ERP system that your organisation runs on, only recognises one correct answer.

Sounds familiar? This tendency for organisations to recognise only one right answer to a problem is not new. You have been living with it all your life, and it probably started with preschool!

Take a moment to think about academic learning. While it is indeed useful, (because it lays a framework for structured learning) there are cases when it can actually retard the intellectual development of the child. By focusing on academic development too early, you run the risk of actually cutting down on your child’s learning potential.

Academic and Intellectual Learning, Parenting, Girl with books

Research indicates that an obsession with academic, rather than intellectual learning can often atrophy a child’s learning skills – play based learning is often the best way to unlock the natural curiosity for knowledge in children.

The strange fact is that we have known this since the 1930s after extensive research by L. P. Benezet, the then-superintendent of Manchester schools.

“For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child’s reasoning facilities. . .” he said, and now 85 years later – it still rings true.

Academic learning is almost entirely designed around standardised tests – that horrific device that every school-going child dreads. With standardised tests, there can only ever be a single correct answer – leaving no way for the child to attempt an alternative answer, a creative way to solve the problem. While it may not be possible for parents to directly control academic learning, there are plenty of everyday opportunities to help the child gain an intellectual understanding of the world, and the creative ways in which problems may be solved.

Academic and Intellectual Learning, Parenting

A great way to approach this issue is to embrace constructivism and understand the importance of the Maker generation. To learn by doing, (rather than by rote) involves the creation and testing of hypothesis on hands-on projects. Building things using the resources on hand, helps the child develop novel solutions to problems and more importantly, helps the child actually internalise knowledge. As Daniel Pink puts it so succinctly, in his eye-opening book, Drive

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

Understanding the difference between Academic and Intellectual learning can help you give your child the greatest gift of all – the ability to think creatively.

Research Notes and References:

  1. DEY Lively Minds
  2. Academic overstimulation in children ted
  3. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  4. Constructivism (philosophy of education)
  5. Maker culture

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