Mindfulness and Learning

What skills can we develop to enhance learning? I have read many articles advocating various techniques for enhancing learning. Recently, quite by accident, I was invited to an introduction to the technique of mindfulness. After that introduction I have read several books on the subject and have come to believe that mindfulness can be useful as a technique to enhance learning.

In our busy world we often arrive in a classroom or may be in another situation where we would like to understand the information being presented to make our own. Generally, our minds are jumping all over being distracted by cell phones, emails, and our thoughts of the past and future. At a basic level mindfulness challenges the user of the technique to simply be here now. As we are being in the present moment our minds are able to concentrate more intensely and this gives the information we want to attend to more of a chance to be set up to be consolidated into a longer term memory (1).

The basic technique is:

  • Relax your body over a period of several minutes from your toes to the top of your head
  • Your eyes may be closed or open
  • Pay attention to your breathing (abdomen, lungs, nostrils) – pick one
  • Observe your thoughts with the goal to just being here now and appreciate it

After the distractive thoughts go back to paying attention to breathing. The idea that thoughts of the past are distorted by our minds is seen to be the same for future events. Both reflections just cause us worrying and anticipating future causes stress.

I just checked YouTube, the second most popular search engine in the world, for “Mindfulness in Education” and got 170, 000 hits. Some people must be thinking it is a useful skill. Maybe it is worth trying.

Mindfulness may look like meditation and the main difference is that meditation is simply mindfulness practiced at a specific time. Meditation has been reported throughout history as a mind technique that helps people be heathier, happier, and more accomplished in their lives. Mindfulness is also reported to help with these same objectives in people’s lives.

It has been said that we become what we repeatedly do (2). As much as a third of what we do in a day is repeated behavior. Running on autopilot and being driven by our habits, as opposed to conscious intention, of what we do, may conserve energy but does not allow us to be as aware as if we are here now.

Another advantage of mindfulness is that it stops us running on autopilot. On autopilot we miss many of the objects in the world around us in our day-to-day lives. Mindfulness proficiency limits the mind wandering and a focused mind is better for problem solving and creative activities.

Successful people do one thing at a time. They slow down and live in the moment. We evolved to do one thing at a time, namely hunt or gather. Multitasking is the enemy of a focused attentional system.

Our minds trick us into thinking that things are better elsewhere but the reality is all we really have is the present moment.


  1. Branch, T. and Byrne, H.G. 1997. The Here and Now Habit. New Harbinger Publications
  2. Levitin, D.J. 2014. The Organized Mind. Penguin Group

Why Go to University

As a young man not having a clear career direction I had the good fortune of knowing two friends who went to the University of Alberta and excelled in their studies. I asked each of them why they went to university. One person told me that he learned how to research topics he was interested in. The other friend told me he learned that “everything is relative to your source of reference”.

I had the idea that I would like to be a guidance counselor. As such, I thought that I would need a university education to learn how to be a counselor. I enrolled in the University of Lethbridge in the Department of Psychology with the express intent of learning how to be a counselor. I soon learned that the University of Lethbridge was a liberal arts university and I would have to take classes seemingly not related to counseling. At first this was very disheartening and seemed like a waste of time. After taking courses from other faculties my career directions changed dramatically. I became a proponent of a liberal arts education. Housing a broad base of knowledge gained through liberal education helped me understand more about how people work and how the world works.

It seems that many professions are regulated by professional standards and for many professions the standards are acquired through university training and education. That people work and specialized professions it would be appropriate for them to have met the professional standards criteria as defined by an industry. I soon learned that you can call yourself a counselor without any education but to call yourself a Psychologist requires you have a Master’s degree. People entering colleges may learn trades that qualify them for challenging and rewarding careers. People going to university may enter faculties that train them for a specific career direction as well.

I have believed for a long time that post-secondary education and lifelong learning are necessary for people to have a happy and healthy life. People attending university seem to be more interested in asking more pure science questions to understand the “why” of how things work. Both applied and pure science have their places and their values. For each individual determining which path of post secondary education is right for them would be worth contemplating. It has been said that people don’t pursue academic careers for the money. They may desire other rewards.

As an undergraduate I think I did learn a great deal about finding information relative to questions I have. I also learned information which made the questions I wanted answers to more sophisticated. To some degree I have come to agree that much knowledge seems “to be relative to your source of reference”. However, this seems less important that the skills of being able to research what you want to know about. For me, university has provided tools I am glad to have learned and continue to evolve.

John Walkey B.A., B.Ed.