Does audio learning enable more understanding or is it just memorization with?

- Guest blog by Kiran Kadekoppa


Ever since the pandemic hit, there have been significant changes, the kind world has seen never before - Kindergarteners to Grad school students sitting in front of laptops to learn from live classroom interactions, pre-recorded lessons, submit their assignments and even get their tests conducted and graded entirely online. The world has rapidly moved towards different ways of using this opportunity to continue to innovate how the classroom of the tomorrow would look like, or even question, if there is a need for a physical classroom as learning can happen “anytime, all the time - on-the-go, literally”.

Audio learning: understanding or just memory?

I came across Alpe Audio with that precise reason to see if there is a meaningful way to “Learn, understand, apply a new concept that was learnt entirely by listening to experts, academicians and practitioners from their respective fields with Audio as the medium of imparting that knowledge. I guess almost like going back to the days of learning before written script for language even existed. Listening to the “guru” who passed his/her knowledge to the disciple entirely in audio only form which the students learnt at the “gurukul” as what they were referred to during the Vedic times in Ancient India.


A few weeks ago I started regularly listening to Alpe courses. While catching up with some blogs, I came across this thought provoking quote from the Nobel Award winning Theoretical Physicist Dr. Richard Feynman. The quote goes like this, "Understand. Don't memorize. Learn principles, not formulas.". This got me thinking and many questions came to my mind -

  1. Does Alpe lessons enable more understanding or they ensure the brain retains some pieces of information without understanding the underlying concept / principles

  2. As the concept of spaced repetition ensures the learner understands or is it just put blindly like recollecting your phone number vs. understanding what is 2+2

  3. Do these lessons heard on-the-go by users of the platform - say while commuting to work, or doing household chores, provide the complete depth and breadth of a specific topic and stimulate the users to think and get better understanding of what is being taught

  4. Do the spaced repetition and recall help with the reinforcement of a concept


I wanted to spend some time to clearly get to the root of the distinction between the memorization and understanding of a specific topic.


Let’s take an example of a 1st grader who is trying to learn the spellings of a three lettered words ending with say “ot”. If the teacher has a list of 5 words, and asks the students a 6th which is not on the list, the kids should be able to stitch together the spelling, because they are already taught the sounds of each of the letters. Knowing the letter visually and what sound they are represented with starts with memory, but over time that understanding helps the students define the spelling of each word that is presented to them. Still there are times when the students might mistake as like should they use a “c” or a “k” for a specific word etc.,


Real learning can only happen when what has been taught by the teacher, learnt and remembered by the students gets applied to new situations or circumstances which helps solidify the understanding.



A few things I wanted to highlight as personal points of view or observations.


  1. The end of the lesson gets the user’s attention to recap what was taught. It is not about memory, it is still about understanding of the subject or the key message from the lesson. Whether it is something that requires lot more thinking post the lesson or if it is a light listening, the need to understand, assimilate and reapply those skills back to your life or work is inevitably going to be same or similar.

  2. Spaced repetition is probably more for memory for the short term, but the reinforcement of the fact and the details around it, will over time become understanding.....like repetition makes it easier to recall, recall leads to more reinforcement of understanding. In one of the Alpe lessons, I came across this beautiful concept - instead of using “practice makes a man perfect”, the instructor recommended to use “practice makes progress”, so these repetitions lead to progress.

  3. When a 12 year old kid understands a geometry concept like Pythagoras's theorem about the right angled triangle and how the a^2+b^2=c^2. They would instantly know the whole number pair that demonstrates this combination and it will likely stay in their understanding (not just memory) throughout their lives. There is some element of "awe" that stays in you and gets you thinking, how thousands years ago Pythagoras or whoever first observed this was able to see the correlation between these different numeric concepts. When you listen to some of the lessons on Product Management or Mindfulness, you get the feeling of “awe”, that makes you wonder, how the the process of learning is changing and your mind has the elasticity to mold itself into the new norm of learning

  4. Some tricks like mnemonics might help get the memorization aspect better a bit - like STOP (Step Out, Take Conscious Breath, Observe, Proceed) in the Mindfulness course or so, but I feel the mnemonic is only a means to an end, that is to methodically understand something new as a concept. Once these steps are put into practice, they become an understanding automatically


References - https://medium.com/@jbrionesgmm/the-difference-between-memorizing-and-understanding-1c8fefbd3881


https://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/learning/principles-of-learning/memorization-vs-understanding/


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