Learning with Examples cont'd

When writing the post Learning with Examples, I forgot that I had commented on my previous blog about Carl Zimmer's article in the New York Times "Children learn by monkey see, monkey do. Chimps don't". This article reported on psychological studies concluding that human beings are hard-wired to learn via imitation.

Mr. Lyons sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn. If he is right, this represents a big evolutionary change from our ape ancestors. Other primates are bad at imitation. When they watch another primate doing something, they seem to focus on what its goals are and ignore its actions.

As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them. They needed to imitate.

Not long ago, many psychologists thought that imitation was a simple, primitive action compared with figuring out the intentions of others. But that is changing. "Maybe imitation is a lot more sophisticated than people thought," Mr. Lyons said.

As the article reports, there are times when imitation is not the best way to learn. Yet, we save a tremendous amount of time when someone shows us how to use a software application compared to trying to decipher the manual. I wonder if perhaps we place too much emphasis on metacognition and reflection, that these processes are not always worth the time invested, and that they do not always make a significant difference in learning. Perhaps we should consider when reflection is productive rather than assume it is.