If anybody asks Donald Norman about rote learning, this is what he would say, taken from The Design of Everyday Things:

Rote learning creates problems. First, because what is being learned is arbitrary, the learning is difficult: it can take considerable time and effort. Second, when a problem arises, the memorized sequence of actions gives no hint of what has gone wrong, no suggestion of what might be done to fix the problem. Although some things are appropriate to learn by rote (the letters of the alphabet, for example), most are not. Alas, it is still the dominant method of instruction in many school systems, and even for much adult training. This is how some people are taught to use computers, or to cook. It is how we have to learn to use some of the new (poorly designed) gadgets of our technology.

Most psychologists would argue that it is not really possible to learn arbitrary associations or sequences. Even where there appears to be no structure, people manufacture some artificial and usually rather unsatisfactory one, which is why the learning is so bad. For our purposes it does not matter whether arbitrary learning is impossible or simply very difficult, the end result is the same: it is not the best way to go, not if there is any choice in the matter. Thus, in teaching the alphabet, we try to make it into a tune, using the natural constraints of rhyme and rhythm to simplify the memory load. People who have learned to use computers or cook by rote are probably not very good. Since they do not understand the reasons for their actions, they must find tasks arbitrary and strange. When something goes wrong, they don’t know what to do (unless they’ve memorized solutions). Although rote learning is at times necessary or efficient–so that emergency procedures for things like high-speed military jet aircraft are handled quickly, automatically when the need arises–on the whole, it is most unsatisfactory.

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