GRAD 5114

GRAD 5114 – Engaging Mindfulness in Learning Environments

Two main things were on my mind while I read this week’s written works (here’s the link to Langer 2000) and watched Ken Robinson’s TED talk on Mindful Learning throughout this week.

  1. A question: Is this mindfulness as I know it?
  2. A class I’ve just started: Communicating Science

These two things were on my mind because I have quite a bit of experience with the concepts of mindfulness from practicing yoga in some capacity for the last 14 years of my life and because the course, which first met on Thursday, actively asked us to be mindful of our bodies, thoughts, and feelings during class.

In a classic mindfulness activity “paying attention” is taking note of distractions, discomforts, and unrelated thoughts and then letting them go, like watching a passing train.

The way mindfulness is being employed in Communicating Science (coincidentally, the third class of the same certificate I’ve been blogging in classes for so far) is certainly mindfulness as I know it. It is taking stock of your condition mentally and physically to engage fully in the activities of the class. This was facilitated in our first meeting by writing out these checks on an index card throughout class when we did new activities and when we were informed we’d be on the spot to speak to the whole class about our research. I found this application of mindfulness in a learning environment very pleasant and helpful, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on whether this application of mindfulness fits into the concept of mindful learning discussed in our readings.

I think that what Langer and the others mean by “mindful learning” was a bit different, but fits well with mindfulness as I know it. The idea of mindfulness in learning here is, essentially, enhancing the learning experience by stimulating questioning. In many of Langer’s studies, the research team sought to avoid absolutes and encourage students to actively consider “exceptions to the rules” in the content they were consuming.

The herbivory example, block quoted below, stuck with me because this is so common in biology. I recall in Comparative Chordate Anatomy in undergrad (a ridiculously fun class) we talked about mammalian vertebral counts, and a statement along the lines of ‘almost all mammals have 7 cervical vertebrae’ grabbed my attention. I immediately wanted to know which ones DON’T have seven, and can say with some considerable certainty that most of them have 7 years later (yes, this includes humans AND giraffes). This certainty of a possibly hard to remember little fact becomes much simpler because of manatees flooping about with only 6 and sloths not being able to make up their minds for the world on how many they should have.

So mindfulness in a learning environment seems to be managing the environment so that curiosity is roused.

“Facts are typically presented as closed packages, without attention to perspective. Scientists know that research results in findings that are probably true given the context in which the work was tested (e.g., most of the time, under the stated circumstances, horses are herbivorous). When these findings are reported by teachers or in textbooks, they are translated from probabilities into absolute statements (e.g., horses are herbivorous) that hide the uncertainty.”
 – Langer, E.J. 2000. “Mindful Learning.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 220–223. (JSTOR link above)


4 thoughts on “GRAD 5114 – Engaging Mindfulness in Learning Environments”

  1. Hey Dana,

    I think there is a little bit of self-reflection involved in both contexts of mindfulness that is there to try to break the cycle of just going through the motions of living/teaching. The first time I taught a class full of students, I was so terrified I was pretending to look at around the class, spreading my attention to different students (because that was what good teachers do), but I couldn’t remember even one a single student’s face afterwards. It takes a lot of practice to shut down the distracting forces and live a real teaching moment.
    Thank you for the great post! Love that the Sloths can’t make up their minds !


    1. Thanks for your comment, Arash. I had the same experience the first time I taught, and I find I have a tendency to do that with public speaking, too. I would be looking right at a student and not notice when their hand went up. It takes a lot of energy to really pay attention to a class or crowd.


  2. Hey Dana! Great post! Through your own experience with Yoga, is it possible to completely separate mindful learning from mindless learning? Is there any chance that these two are mutually inclusive? Good day and kindest regards.


    1. Thanks, Amos. I think that mindfulness is something you can keep or lose track of, so I would think that the concepts of mindless and mindful learning are mostly separate. However, I’ve definitely had the experience of being so focused on one aspect of an activity that I forget to be mindful of another important part of it. I can image that even if you’re trying to be mindful while taking in new information there are still things you’ll do “mindlessly” at the same time.


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