Learning is something we do all the time. We learn every day. At home, at work, when we’re on the road. We learn about the world around us by looking at it. We try to process what we see. By doing so, we hope to be a bit smarter and better prepared for the future. After all, when you have more knowledge, you have more opportunities and a better life, is it not?
But it’s not so easy to keep track of it all. New experiences, new knowledge, new skills, and new opportunities keep on coming. It becomes too much, way too fast. This forces us to choose. Choose what to learn and what not to learn. You have to, to keep yourself from being overwhelmed. It is not inherently a bad thing to do so, but it makes you choose not to learn something.
Unfortunately, you don’t always make the right choices. This is not a conscious decision. It is simply easier to learn something that fits in your vision of how the world works, than something that doesn’t. Over time, you have build a frame of reference. You assign a spot for everything that fits into that frame of reference. If it doesn’t fit, you have a problem.
For example: I have a three year old daughter. This number is important to her, because she uses it everywhere. She thinks she should get three cookies, because she is three. She should only have to eat three bites of spinach, for she is three. When I ask her how many fingers she has, she gets confused. Even though she has been able to count to ten for some while now, she moves her fingers and says ‘three’.
What happens to my daughter, happens to us all. If information doesn’t fit our frame of reference, sometimes we don’t want to process it. You would have to adjust your frame of reference and that requires effort. We as humans are just not wired to choose the difficult option. That is why we can subconsciously choose to ignore certain information or to interpret it differently just so we won’t have this problem.
This is a pity of course, because thinking about your frame of reference is incredibly useful. It creates new insights and solutions to problems.
If you want to teach someone something, ask yourself whether this person can assimilate the new knowledge. You have to know what his/her frame of reference is. It will take significantly more effort if this person has to change the structure in their brain to learn from you (accommodate). The question is whether this person will do so. You will have to be convincing.
Taking knowledge in that fits your frame of reference is called assimilation. Changing your frame of reference to learn is called accommodation. Jean Piaget’s theory uses these concepts to describe learning as a balance between the two.