Milena Tzakova CS561

Heuristic Learning
Learning is a process that humans have been trying to master for many centuries. However, there are so many different ways to do the process that it is sometimes very hard to determine which one is the best of a given situation. One such type of learning is heuristic learning. It is a method in which the students should discover things for themselves. That can be done through problem solving, inductive reasoning, or simply by trial and error. Heuristic learning is widely used in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and computers. It is shown that in many situations it is the best possible learning process, and the purpose of this paper is to explain what those situations are and why is heuristic learning so suitable for them. People learn through different processes in different situations. However, even in certain situations different people choose different processes to learn. That is why it is hard to sometimes say what is exactly the right learning process to use in a specific situation. Some people need to see things to learn them, others to hear and some need to experience them for themselves in order to understand them. That is where heuristic learning comes to play. There is an old saying that “people learn from experience” and that is what heuristic learning is based on. Once a person has done something, that may include solved a problem or simply plugged a cable in the right outlet, that person has learned how to do it. Sometimes it may take more than once to master what one is trying to learn but through experience one learns, and that is what heuristic learning is all about. It is based on the student discovering things for himself. Trying possibilities and learning

from his mistakes. It is about seeing things through your own eyes, and doing them with your own hands. One of the most widely used ways of learning nowadays (and back in the old days) is obtaining the information from books. Reading is how most of us learned many of the things we now know. However, sometimes it could be extremely hard to actually visualize or simply understand the material one has read. A very simple example is physics. One may read about gravity and how it works but still be unable to understand it. However, if one grabs and apple and throws it and it eventually falls then one has actually witnessed the work of gravity. Some concepts are so hard to understand that it would be almost impossible to learn the entirely from books. That is why many science fields such as physics and chemistry, provide not only the actual class sessions but also a lab session where the students can experiment and learn through discovery. As much as most students say they don’t like going to labs, these are the places where they can actually connect what they have read with how things really work. Many years after that most of them wont probably remember which physics book they read and what exactly they read in there about Newton’s laws but the probability is greater that they will remember at least partially what they did in lab to “re-discover” or simply prove Newton’s laws. Mathematics is a field that many people say is full of “dry theory”. However, it is a field in which heuristic learning also plays a very important role. One may read all the “dry theory” and may feel like he understands the concepts, but when one is faced with a simple example he may not know how to apply what he has read to it. Imagine two students and they are both learning how to find the derivative of a given equation. One

student is explained the theory of deriving an equation. The other one is given a couple of problems and is lead through the process of deriving them by himself. Then the two students are given the same problem. There is a possibility that the first one may actually be able to solve the problem right away, but there is a much greater possibility that the second one will be able to solve it, since he has done similar problems and has learned through his experience. This is based on the idea of heuristic examples Many people have seen the advantages of heuristic learning and have tried to apply it through various methods (Reiss and Renkl, 2002). Some of them include thinking out loud or showing each and every step of a problem solution. There are many problems that students face and don’t know how to handle at first. Simply because they haven’t read anything about such a problem, or heard anything in class, but mostly because they have not faced a similar problem before. That is when they try to discover the solution themselves and depending on the problem there are various approaches they can take. However, once they solve that problem they heuristically learn what to do in a similar situation. So the next time they face a similar situation they will know what to do, looking back at their experience. Some teachers use a very interesting technique that involves heuristic learning. It is as follows: they give the students a problem, that they have never seen before, and ask them to solve it by any means possible. The students try various ways in solving and unfortunately many of them don’t succeed. Later on the teacher explains them the right solution. The difference between this situation and the situation of the teacher simply telling them the solution the first day is very simple. The students are given so much information that they sometimes do not see its relevance or its use. However, if there is a

problem they have been trying to solve for a while and then they have been given the solution they are going to appreciate it a lot more than if they were simply given the solution to a problem they have never seen before. That is also strongly related to heuristic learning. It is sometimes hard to figure out the difference between heuristic learning and problem solving learning. Since the definition of heuristic learning is to “discover things for yourself”, and problem solving is to solve things for yourself. When solving a problem one discovers the solution for himself even though he might have been given steps to follow as one is in most problem solving situations. So it seems that sometimes problem solving and heuristic learning may actually mean the same thing. The only main difference is that heuristic learning can be used in any field and may not always has steps that one must follow or a right answer that one must achieve. Problem solving, on the other hand, usually focuses on a problem that has steps that one must take to achieve the solution. As many types of learning as there are it seems like in many situations there is nothing more suitable than heuristic leaning. The reason for that might be that one really believes in something when one experiences it himself. That is what heuristic learning is really all about. Discovering things by yourself, knowing from experience rather than books. Since there are so many fields of study nowadays that are full of so many facts it is sometimes very hard for a person to understand by simply reading about them. That is where heuristic learning is mostly applied in “re-discovering” already found facts so that one can fully understand them. It is way past the time when we were trying to figure out

whether the things we read about were really true or not. Now it is about us finding for ourselves and thus believing in their truthfulness.

Kristina Reiss and Alexander Renkl (2002). Learning to prove: The idea of heuristic examples Pearl Pu and Denis Lalanne (1996). Human and Machine Collaboration in Creative Design

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