I’m yet to find a really accurate, original, and dare I say it,
interesting, explanation of inductive learning so I thought I’d write
one. Firstly, it’s necessary to examine inductive and deductive reasoning.
Reasoning is how we structure our thinking to arrive at answers and
truths, using facts and logic as the basis for higher conclusions.
Inductive reasoning means conjecturing an answer using the information you have as platform for further inference.
Deductive reasoning means finding the answer contained in the information you have been given.
Out of these five fruits: Banana, Apple, Tomato, Peach, Pear, the tomato is the odd one out because it is the only one eaten or cooked with salt.
The others can be, but in reality almost always aren’t.
Out of these five fruits: Banana, Apple, Tomato, Peach, Pear, the tomato is different as it can also be classed as a vegetable.
This is a basic fact and cannot be falsified.
You can see from the examples that inductive reasoning takes far more imaginative and cognitive work than simple Aristotelian recall. In other words, inductive reasoning is a deeper form of reasoning that involves speculating, calling on a wider field of information, and taking an intellectual risk. While deductive reasoning involves a certain degree of playing it safe.
I feel there is not enough promotion of reasoning in schools and academia generally. We use reasoning every day but formal and deep argument I believe is something of a forgotten skill. Instead, people are encouraged to simply review and reference literature on a subject and use hedged and equivocal language to arrive at a typically tame conclusion.
In the same vein, inductive learning has become less favoured in education than its easier, less original brother, deductive learning. That is, the promotion of knowledge over understanding. Both are required in education and in life, but the two call on very different thought processes.
In Language Learning
Lying at the root of reasoning in language learning are the
questions we ask our learners. For instance, a comprehension question
about a text is deductive, while asking the reader’s opinion is
Deductive vocabulary teaching
Inductive vocabulary teaching
Deductive grammar teaching
Inductive grammar teaching
[Don’t get me started on pron. That’s for another post...]
The inductive approach has in many contexts gone out of fashion. It
is viewed as a relic from the Direct Method where learners were felt to
be overly challenged and often struggled to grasp a concept.
Inductive learning is thus considered an uphill approach. Despite the
Direct Method being such a natural method; attempting to mirror the L1
acquisition process, it is also natural that teachers are very quick to
provide the answers and make learning as easy as possible. Sometimes
people pay lip service to thorough practice, but in reality take the
easy route of teaching at the students and to the test.
Deductive elicitation does indeed have its limits but inductive elicitation has a lot more mileage in constructing understanding. The basic premise of this is that as language teachers, we are teaching a skill more than we are teaching a knowledge. Ergo, the emphasis ought to be on the skill of communicative risk-taking above the ability to recall declarative facts. The latter relies on tedious repetition, the former on discovery. Knowing a rule or a word is something altogether different than being able to use it in normal interaction. For that, we do need repetition but more so we need independent and somewhat unscaffolded practice. The truth is, people surprise themselves and grow when they try to do something new.
Inductive reasoning and learning requires people to make generalisations. These are often wrong, but that shouldn’t be an issue in a language classroom. The wrong answer is fodder for further reasoning and talk. Communicative risk taking is so important to develop in learners. When a learner does not know how to say a word she sees on the page, instead of stopping and asking how it is said, which is the default reaction for many. If the learner just attempts the word, fifty percent of the time they get it right! And of the remaining fifty percent, half the time they get it half right! People surprise themselves and grow when they try to do something new. This is how we make quick learners out of people and dispel a deficit mentality in teachers. Inductive approaches like this make better real world communicators out of us too.
Some ways to encourage inductive learning
1. Aristotle was the first to comprehensively outline deductive reasoning. As well as this, his theories of classification universals all relate to deductive inference.
2. Which is why I’ve written a book on the subject.
4. For an overview of the Direct Method, its value and its failings, read this.
5. One of these days I’ll do a post on the Silent Way.
6. For example: these assertions on the website of Transparent Language Learning deprecating inductive learning.
7. See the activity ‘Attributes’.