Saturday, February 24, 2007

Harvard's new emphasis on applied knowledge is instructive for churches

In this week's Time magazine, there is a report that Harvard is going away from just book knowledge and more towards applied knowledge in their curriculum. Out is history as a required course, and in are courses covering practical ethics, personal finance and a host of other real life issues.

"Just as one doesn't become a marathon runner by reading about the Boston Marathon, so, too, one doesn't become a good problem solver by listening to lectures or reading about statistics," says the committee chairman who made the suggested changes.

We should take note of these changes. Academia has for centuries valued knowledge for its own sake. The same has often been true for churches and individual Christians. We must go from simply giving out information and help people apply their knowledge. This will involve reallocating our time towards hands on learning. Rather than teaching a class on visiting the hospital, we need to invite others to go to the hospital with us, and teach them along the way. This should be a part of our core “teaching” curriculum.

The book Our Underchieving Colleges reports that students remember just 20% of the content of class lectures a week later. Hands on learning, however, is usually retained at somewhere around 75%. It seems that Jesus taught his disciples in both of these ways. We need to recover this type of learning in the church today.

How do you learn best—from lectures, discussion, or hands on?


vintagebee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vintagebee said...

hey james,
i like this new take on learning. i think other colleges will see what harvard is doing, and by encompassing a more diverse way of learning, it could potentially help a number of students nationally...maybe even globally. i tend to learn best from hands on, and discussion type settings, but i also, depending on what i'm studying, benefit from lectures or bookwork.
having some training in the medical field, i feel the best way to learn is by hands on. you can read all day and night in a book on how to perform proper venipunture, but until you actually do it yourself, you'll never perfect your own technique...or get rid of the butterflies! that's been my experience, at least.
hopefully people will embrace this new learning aspect, and these students will become better at what they do.

brandi mashaney

i'm new at this blogger thing...

James said...


I myself am a book and discussion learner. But there are many things that can't be learned very well in these formates. Your mentioning of venipuncture is a good example. As a fellow former "vampire" (phlebotomist), I know that you "learn" how to do this by doing it.

We need to actually train people in the faith, as Jesus did.

So glad you have joined us online. You are such an inspiration to us!