Often students are unaware that education is a journey from the external to the internal: From information to knowledge and from knowledge to realization. As educators, we naturally study educational theories. Theories of learning such as behaviorism, cognitive psychology, constructivism, social learning, and more have been discussed and developed responses to the phenomenon of learning, yet in classroom practice (cyberspace or physical), we are still perplexed by the mystery of learning and continue to search, know, and apply improved instructional methods for improved learning. In this regard, Vedic learning from ancient India comes to mind. In ancient India, among the many paths of learning for self-realization, students of the Vedas also learn to apply three basic sequential techniques for mastering a subject matter: Śravaṇa (listening), Manana (reflection/contemplation/clearing of doubts), and Nididhyasana (meditation on the truth/integration/experience). Though the three techniques were expounded to gain the knowledge of the Self, these methodologies remain relevant and applicable even in today’s world of education. In light of the learning difficulties faced by students in online classes, adapting Vedic techniques to course design and lesson plans, especially in the first weeks of school, might help set a foundation for a successful inward journey from dependence on the teacher to independence and self-reliance regarding the subject.
Śravaṇa: Hearing and listening to the guru
The first step, Śravaṇa, refers to hearing or listening to the Guru. In an online learning module, the lesson imparted by the teacher, in the form of audio-video lectures, readings, or demonstrations, is the beginning of the learning. The teacher guides the student through the information, and the most important requirement is the student’s focus and attention. In this stage, the teacher reminds students to keep the mind clear of preconceptions and misconceptions of the topic, as well as prejudices about the subject of study. In How Adults Learn: A Reflective Essay (2017), Dr. Sridevi Yerrabati says, “One of the things that surprised me was that the students were relying on culturally-and socially-imposed experiences or preconceived notions, rather than what they had experienced directly.” Hence, the teacher might build from the premise that less clutter in the mind will make space for better focus, which is likely to make their journey through the next two stages smoother.
In light of Śravaṇa, an online module could be designed with a title that indicates the attitude needed by the learner. The title could be suggestive of how to approach the module. Here is an example:
- Stage 1 of Learning: Listening/Reading/Understanding (How focused are you?)
To such a module, besides readings and lectures, a teacher could add formative assessments and/or games that allow students to practice attentiveness and focus (without affecting the grade). Canvas Studio, Hot Potatoes, EdPuzzle, and Quizlet are a few tools to achieve this. Śravaṇa is also similar to Thornburg’s “campfire” concept expressed in Campfires in Cyberspace (2004). He says, “There is a sacred quality to teaching as storytelling, and this activity took place in sacred places, typically around the fire. The focal point of the flame, the sounds of the night, all provide backdrop to the storyteller who shares wisdom with students who, in their turn, become storytellers to the next generation.” In this sense, “campfire” is the sacred space for Śravaṇa, the Guru’s impartation of wisdom, and appears similar to cognitivism, yet the student is not a passive recipient of knowledge but a determinant of the true meaning in it. This is the beginning of the learning. In today’s online environment, the Guru’s role may have changed to that of a guide, but the framework remains the same as that of the triad: Teacher, medium of teaching, and student.
Manana: Reflecting, contemplating, and clearing of doubts
From Śravaṇa, students move on to Manana—reflecting, contemplating, and clearing of doubts. Here, they reason and analyze until they clearly understand the subject at hand. They work through doubts, misunderstandings, and confusion in the process of analysis. Their goal is to fully understand the teachings of the Guru. This is the space and time for questioning the teacher and discoursing with classmates. Making notes and repeated reading are necessary here, and such studying takes time and requires discipline. In an online-learning module, the title of the module could be, for example:
- Stage 2 of Learning: Reflecting on the readings and converting the understanding to knowledge.”
The Manana module can hold discussions and other activities such as blogging and community conversations. Today’s Learning Management Systems hold excellent discussion tools and are integrated with educational applications such as Padlet. In terms of Thornburg’s Campfires in Cyberspace, Manana could connect to the “watering hole,” though in Vedic methodology Manana is related to a Q&A with the teacher, but the idea could just as easily apply to an online module. The emphasis is on reflection with the goal of attaining wisdom. Manana, one can guess, comes close to constructivism and social learning theories. It’s important to reiterate that Manana is the act of digging deeply into the information derived during the Śravaṇa stage.
Nididhyasana: Deepening knowledge and realizations
From Manana, students move to Nididhyasana, where knowledge deepens and realizations arise. This is the meditative stage where one is solo. The knowledge derived or built from the first two stages is internalized here so that it becomes a living reality. The learning is applied and practiced. With doubts cleared, students move to experience and conviction. The journey doesn’t end here because Nididhyasana continues beyond the course. In reference to Thornburg, Nididhyasana could relate to the “cave” where one retreats for deeper contemplation. In a learning module, this stage could be titled as follows:
- Stage 3 of Learning: Integrating (It’s not enough to know. Can you implement this knowledge? Experience it? Let it flow easily into action?)
Thornburg says, “There is one other primordial learning environment of great importance: the cave—where we came in contact with ourselves.” Operating in the full power of the Self is the Nididhyasana stage. In such a module, assignments such as essays or exams can be included. Even if a group project were assigned, individual contributions would still require solo retreating to the “cave” as well as a demonstration of the ability to implement the knowledge or skill. This shows that Nididhyasana is indispensable for learning to come to fruition in the form of realization or wisdom.
In the Vedic age, much emphasis was given to the student’s mental environment as a healthy, attentive, focused mind would complete the journey from information to realization with ease. These Vedic techniques appear to be more relevant and needed today in view of struggling, overworked, underprivileged, and distracted students. If a learning technique can empower a student’s mind and is a 5,000-year old tested methodology, then adding it to the teacher’s toolkit might just be logical and rewarding to the student and the teacher.
Nita Gopal is a professor of English at Modesto Junior College, California, and has been teaching online since 2006.
Thornburg, David D. (2004). “Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century.” International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Vol.1, No.10.
Yerrabati, Sridevi. (2017). “How Adults Learn: A Reflective Essay.” Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching. VOL. 10, No. 1.