Push-based learning vs pull-based learning

August 07, 2018Veena K

Anish was so engrossed in the movie ‘King Arthur’ that he didn’t realise he had finished his lunch with very little fuss. I had allowed my grandnephew to watch the movie for a second time in one day, because this was the only way he had agreed to have his lunch and left me in peace to have mine. As he was visiting India for the first time on his own, without his mother, I let it be. He went on to watch the movie a total of four times that day, then did the same the next day, and the next! I am sure his mother would have never allowed this to happen. He was having a whale of a time here in my place and I certainly didn’t want to spoil that for him. While talking to his mother, he would relate the entire story of King Arthur with great gusto, and made it a point to tell her how many times he had watched the movie by then. Although my niece was not very happy about this, there was not much she could do from a distance. She tried reasoning with me not to spoil him, but after much debating she hung up saying she had given up on me. So here we both sat, watching King Arthur in all his glory! I was fascinated that a seven-year-old had so much patience to watch the same movie repeatedly, without getting bored. He could follow every dialogue, repeat it and explain to me why they were doing what they were doing in the movie. When I had to take a break to do some house related work, he would wait patiently for me to be back to continue watching. When he went back to his school the following academic year, King Arthur was part of his essay writing, story writing, drama, art and craft. My niece was naturally grateful to me, for she didn’t have to struggle much for his project work for the entire year! Watching this child watch the movie and enjoy it so much each time, was an eye opener for me. By nature, human beings like to learn things, but they don’t like to be forced to learn. If I had probably told him that he HAD to watch the movie, implying that “you HAVE to learn this”, he may have not been able to do so effectively. He would have naturally resisted the experience and decided to minimise the time and depth of the process. The ‘push’ factor goes against the natural course of the mind’s learning process. Whereas here, he went on to prove that when one is genuinely interested in learning they learn faster and retain the information longer. He was also at a later date able to integrate the knowledge into his overall knowledge base and make connections to be able to work on his projects. Thus, he had created strong cognitive connection points for future learning. He had control over his motives and reason for learning. He had decided what he wanted to learn and when – a perfect instance of ‘pull’ based learning, which is much more attractive to learners. This reminds me of Kunwer Sachdev. He is an Indian entrepreneur, founder and Managing Director of Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd., an India-based power solutions provider. Kunwer Sachdev was born in a middle-class family and studied in a government school. He showed little interest in studies, but did succeed to complete his graduation in Mathematics from Hindu College. However, while studying, nothing interested him much except that he wanted to do something big. From a government Hindi medium school to English speaking Hindu College was a big leap. The first year he spent reading 30 English novels to learn and speak English! He then went on to study law in the evening hours as he had seen his family go through many litigations in court because of his father’s several troublesome business partnerships. For the first time in his life, Kunwar studied ‘seriously’, though he did not pursue a career in law as he wanted to do something different. The late 80’s was the beginning of cable TV in India, and that’s where he jumped into the fray, knowing nothing much about the industry. He was able to sell cable equipment but realised that the people who actually installed and implemented it were unreliable. That’s when he went back to his basic class 9 and 10 physics textbooks. In his own words, “In school I used to run away from Physics, hated History. Today I can miss my dinner to read books on these subjects. I just can’t get enough! I am constantly learning.” (quote from the book Connect the Dots by Rashmi Bansal). Later, he went on to manufacture high quality inverters, which were not available in those days. When the company grew much bigger he did go through trying times with the excise department and subsequently with competitors. But he came out of the situation successfully, and was awarded ‘Entrepreneur of the Year 2011’ at the Entrepreneur India Awards. The human mind is designed to learn only when it chooses to participate in the learning process, an opt-in basis. This is pull based learning. Here the person looks at how much control he/she has over the motives and reason for learning. The decision is in the hands of the learner, their preferences about their learning, relationship to the meaning of the content and what value it holds. The learner decides what to learn, when to learn. Don’t you think learning should be self-directed and access to learning resources should be based on whatever they need and when they need it?

Further reading:
Push vs Pull Learning - http://clarklearning.weebly.com/push-vs-pull-learning.html
7 Essential Principles of Innovative Learning - https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/26755/7-essential-principles-of-innovative-learning
How children learn - https://www.nap.edu/read/9853/chapter/7#91