Most people exercise for both specific and general benefits. Often they don't specifically consider the benefits but usually know in some vague way what those benefits are and how exercising can achieve them.
I think education should be viewed in a similar fashion and the benefits we get from it are very similar, if not identical, to those we get from regular exercise. Let's consider some of them using the exercise analogy.
1. Exercise is best done at regular intervals. There are very few benefits to exercising if you only do it once every few months. Likewise, the benefits of studying are best realized when done at regular intervals. Not necessarily every single day but often enough to build on previous sessions and maintain a steady pace of learning.
2. Variety in exercise is beneficial. Most exercise programs consist of various activities to keep interest up and work various muscle groups at the same time. Likewise, when learning something it is good to vary what you're learning and how you're learning it. Reading is a good educational activity but so too is watching a video (such as a good TED talk) or practicing an activity. Different learning activities also exercise various parts of your thinking muscle (i.e. the brain) just as different exercises work for different muscle groups.
3. Exercises contain some form of resistance. I find that when I begin to question what students say in class they become frustrated. They are not used to having their ideas and opinions challenged and they don't like it. But, from an exercise theory point of view, this is a necessary part of education. Just as most exercises derive their benefit from exposing the body to resistance (weight training is a good example) so too education requires resistance. Asking students to justify their claims, back up their opinions with evidence, or explain their answers in a paper or exam are forms of resistance that further and deepen learning.
4. Exercises have specific as well as general benefits. Most exercises have very specific benefits such as strengthening specific muscles, toning specific body parts, or increasing stamina. Exercise also has more general benefits such as increasing overall health and well-being. Education can be seen in the same light. There are specific benefits to learning such as the specific skill or content being learned. But, there are also more general benefits that are just as important. Such benefits include being more well-rounded, gaining an appreciation and deeper understanding of the world at large, and improving one's social skills.
Like exercise, education can be hard and feel exhausting at times. We don't always feel like getting up early to work out or do whatever exercise we have chosen. But, we usually do so because we recognize the benefits that come from exercise. And, most people who exercise regularly also do so because they enjoy it. If only we as parents and educators could encourage the same attitude towards education!
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator
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