Marketing genius and author Seth Godin recently wrote about the use of analogy in educating others and frames an idea that's near and dear to my heart:
Marketing, like all forms of art, requires us to learn to see. To see what's working and to transplant it, change it and amplify it.We don't teach this, but we should. We don't push people to practice the act of learning by analogy, because it's way easier to just give them a manual and help them avoid thinking for themselves.The opportunity is to find the similarities and get ever better at letting others go first--not with what you've got, but with something you can learn from.
So true. I also think about this in terms of "why" vs. "how". It's sometimes too easy to provide the manual and a set of steps to help someone learn something new. And it can work. But it can also represent a missed opportunity. By framing ideas at a higher level and using analogies, we can discuss the "why" first and show people a new way to think about the idea; why an idea makes sense, why it matters. This can become an invitation to care - and that's what we all want - for people to care about our ideas.
I felt the how-why disconnect when learning math. I was so focused on the "how", I never saw the reasoning behind the solutions and formulas - math appeared to be a set of steps you memorize - the "how". I never developed a higher level sense of "why" for most math problems - and my grades reflected this kind of learning. What I needed was for someone to step away from the specifics and build a foundation, perhaps by using analogies, so that I could learn to see math from a different perspective first.