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Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Power of Analogy in Learning

In physics, we use a lot of analogies. We compare just about all aspects of rotational motion to linear motion analogues. We compare electrical resistance to electrons bouncing in a pinball machine. Electric circuits are like roller coasters and plumbing systems. Energy and matter are like steam and ice, two forms of the same stuff. So this is not new for us, and it can really help us not only conceptually, but also in problem solving. If you are OK doing the mathematics of air friction, you can do the math of RC circuits, or if you know how to handle springs and pendulums in simple harmonic motion, you can do problems with LC circuits and even a case of Schrodinger's equation in quantum mechanics.

But on a larger scale, there is an interesting post about the power of analogy and how some are now thinking it is the key to cognition and learning in general. The more ways you can think about a system in terms of others that are more familiar and understood by you, then the more likely you are to solve the new problem. By building and modifying what you know about things through analogy, the more creative a solution you might develop when confronted by new problems that can be made familiar to things you know.

There is also a video from Doug Hofstadter at a Stanford forum on this topic. Watch it if interested, and after 13 minutes is the bulk of this topic.

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