The Power of Mindful Learning

This summer, new students at Goucher College will read The Power of Mindful Learning in which Harvard psychology professor Dr. Ellen Langer uses her innovative theory of mindfulness to dramatically enhance the way people learn. The book is Goucher’s 2015 summer reading assignment for first-year and transfer students.

Selected based on suggestions from the campus community, The Power of Mindful Learning will spark discussion among new students, staff, and faculty, and it will serve as an introduction to the Spring 2016 theme semester on mindfulness. Incoming students will receive a copy of the book and study guide questions this summer to foster group conversation during fall Orientation.

In business, sports, labs, and at home, learning is thwarted by antiquated ideas and pervasive misconceptions. After long and careful research, Dr. Langer has distilled the basic philosophy of the current, although-flawed educational system into seven commonly held myths: The basics must be learned so well they become second nature; paying attention means being focused on one thing at a time; delaying gratification is important; rote memorization is necessary; forgetting is a problem; intelligence is knowing “what’s out there”; and there are right and wrong answers.

She replaces these myths with her concept of mindful learning that takes place with an awareness of context and the ever-changing nature of information. Dr. Langer emphasizes what she calls “sideways learning,” namely openness to novelty; alertness to distinction; sensitivity to different contexts; implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and orientation in the present. Learning without this awareness, as Langer shows with meticulous research, has severely limited uses and often sets learners up for failure.

The book has been called an invaluable first step to solving many of the problems of today’s educational system and an excellent introduction to what might be the next paradigm shift in education.

Dr. Langer is also the author ofPersonal Politics (with Carol Dweck), Counterclockwise, On Becoming an Artist, The Psychology of Control, and Mindfulness, which has been published around the world. She is also co-editor of Higher Stages of Development and Beliefs, Attitudes and Decision Making. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship and numerous awards, including the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest of the American Psychological Association.

Discussion Questions

Coming soon.  Please check back later this summer.