An alternative to constructivist learning: Single instance learning without practice?
Every student of cognitive and learning sciences is taught constructivist learning theory, (according to Wikipedia) “humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas.” Learning is a conscious effortful process. All learning is assimilation (adding to what is already known) or accomodation (restructing what is already known).
Then comes the new study described below. Here’s how I understand the experiment (and I didn’t read the original journal article, so I could easily have this wrong): A subject sees a scene. Researchers use fMRI to manipulate the subject’s visual cortex to interpret the scene the way that an expert would. In later trials, the subject sees the scene the way that the expert does. No practice. No interaction with prior knowledge. No effort. One instance learning (it seems) and now perception is changed.
Wow. It’s pretty amazing that it would work– that manipulating the visual cortex would lead to learning. Maybe that’s how learning happens in the first place. Minsky says the brain is a kluge of different mechanisms, We try to see things in a new way (one mechanism), and when we do so successfully, a separate mechanism captures the state of the cortex for future use.
This experiment does open up a range of new possibilities and questions. What can be learned this way, and what can’t? What transfers, and what doesn’t? How does the new insta-learning integrate with existing knowledge?
“We found that subjects were not aware of what was to be learned while behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed that subjects’ visual performance improved specifically for the target orientation, which was used in the neurofeedback training,” he said.
The finding brings up an inevitable question. Is hypnosis or a type of automated learning a potential outcome of the research?
“In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome,” said Kawato. “However, in this study we confirmed the validity of our method only in visual perceptual learning. So we have to test if the method works in other types of learning in the future. At the same time, we have to be careful so that this method is not used in an unethical way.”