Attention in Digital Age and How to Learn Amidst Distractions: Mediated Learning Experience Approach of Reuven Feuerstein | Prasad Kaipa

IIW Web Team 26 September, 2023


In the digital age, children are constantly bombarded with stimuli from screens. This can make it difficult for them to focus and learn. As a result, many teachers are struggling to find ways to get their students’ attention.

This is not just issue with children in elementary schools. The problem begins there but in colleges and universities, this issue escalates. In addition to phones and social media, now there is AI and other ways students can get away from thinking and learning and paying attention. It is resulting not only in reduced cognitive abilities and learning but also in mental disorders and psychological issues in children and adults everywhere.

What should be the role of teachers, trainers and professors (dare I say parents and managers as well) in helping others to learn in schools and organizations (and homes)?

There have been talks about teachers becoming facilitators and healers and coaches for a while. Then the question becomes, what kind of a facilitator can you be? What kind of coaching approach works in helping others to learn and develop their cognitive abilities and actualize their full potential?

Yesterday, I was in a meeting that discussed this topic as a part of an open space conference called ‘Business of Business is Learning’ in Siddhabhari, India organized by School of Inspired Leadership. When I mentioned the approach that I learned from Reuven Feuerstein in 1989, just before I attended the first open space conference that was held in Goa, there was increased interest and hence this blog.

Reuven Feuerstein’s Mediated Learning Experience (MLE).

Dr. Reuven Feuerstein was an Israeli psychologist who fundamentally altered the landscape of educational psychology. Born in Romania in 1921, Feuerstein was deeply influenced by the educational challenges posed by the aftermath of World War II. His work initially began with displaced children who were considered “uneducable” due to their traumatic experiences.

Dr. Reuven Feuerstein developed the theory of Mediated Learning Experience (MLE). MLE is a theory of learning that focuses on the role of the mediator in helping the learner construct meaning. The mediator is someone who provides scaffolding and support to the learner, helping them to make sense of the world around them.

Feuerstein believed that all learners have the potential to learn, regardless of their background or ability level. He also believed that the brain is plastic and can change throughout life. This means that it is possible to improve a learner’s cognitive abilities through mediated learning.

The MLE approach has been used successfully with children of all ages, including those with learning disabilities and other special needs. It has also been used in corporate training and business school education.

One of the key features of MLE is that it is individualized. The mediator tailors the learning experience to the specific needs of the learner. This helps to ensure that the learner is challenged but not overwhelmed.

Another key feature of MLE is that it is active. The learner is actively engaged in the learning process, rather than passively receiving information. This helps to promote deeper learning and understanding.

MLE has been shown to be effective in improving a variety of cognitive skills, including attention, memory, problem-solving, and reasoning. It has also been shown to improve academic achievement and social-emotional skills.

The Learning Potential Assessment Device (LPAD) is a diagnostic tool that is used to assess the cognitive abilities of learners. The LPAD is based on the principles of MLE and can be used to identify learners who are at risk for learning problems.

The Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) program is a cognitive intervention program that is used to improve the cognitive abilities of children and adults with learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and other special needs. The FIE program is based on the principles of MLE and has been shown to be effective in improving a variety of cognitive skills, including attention, memory, problem-solving, and reasoning.

Foundational Concepts

Feuerstein developed the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability, which argues that human intelligence is not a static trait but is subject to change and modification. This laid the groundwork for Mediated Learning Experience (MLE), an educational model emphasizing the role of a mediator in the learning process. The mediator is not merely a transmitter of information but a facilitator who helps the learner interact meaningfully with their environment.

Mediation Components:

Intentionality and Reciprocity: The mediator intends to impart certain skills or knowledge and anticipates a reciprocal response from the learner.

Meaning: The mediator imbues learning experiences with meaning, making them relevant and memorable.

Transcendence: The mediator helps the learner apply acquired knowledge and skills beyond the immediate context, encouraging flexibility and generalization.

Legacy and Impact

Feuerstein’s ideas have found applications beyond education, influencing clinical psychology, special education, and even corporate training programs. Organizations like the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP) continue to propagate his methods and philosophies. Here is an interview with Dr. Feuerstein before he passed away in 2014.

My experience with Feuerstein

I have spent several years in conversation with Reuven and his wife Bertha since 1989. I found that there is a profound connection between Mediated Learning that he talked about and the way in which Gurukulas of ancient times operated. Teachers provided individual attention to students who are learned highly condensed ‘sutras’ and make sense of those sutras, interpret them in contemporary language and context and help them to apply the source material and gain meaning and value that is unique to each disciple. In fact, in Institute of Indic Wisdom, we are following similar principles to translate Indian Knowledge System (IKS) to become more relevant and meaningful in the management and human development context today.

Let me elaborate the connection between a concept in Indic wisdom and MLE.

Rishi, Devata, and Chandhas in Indic Tradition:

  • Rishi: Represents the seer or sage, the knower. This aligns with the ‘mediator’ in Feuerstein’s MLE, who interprets and makes the content meaningful for the learner.
  • Devata: Is the subject matter or the essence, akin to the ‘content’ in MLE.
  • Chandhas: Refers to the meter or the rhythm in which the knowledge is imparted, similar to the ‘methodology’ in MLE.

Points of Confluence:

  1. The Role of the Mediator/Rishi: In both MLE and Indic learning traditions, the mediator or the Rishi plays a crucial role in facilitating the learning process. The mediator sifts, interprets, and imparts knowledge, tailored to the learner’s cognitive capabilities.
  2. Content and Context (Devata): The Devata or the subject matter is crucial in both paradigms. The mediator in MLE or the Rishi in the Indic context takes complex subject matter and breaks it down into comprehensible pieces.
  3. Methodology (Chandhas): The Chandhas could be likened to the various tools or methodologies used in MLE to impart learning in an effective manner. The ‘rhythm’ of learning is adjusted according to the learner’s capabilities and needs.
  4. Holistic Development: Both MLE and the Rishi-Devata-Chandhas approach aim for more than just academic success; they strive for cognitive development, emotional maturity, and social skills—akin to a holistic learning experience.
  5. Cognitive Flexibility: Both approaches appreciate the “modifiable” nature of intelligence and cognitive functions, and therefore, aim to ‘mediate’ experiences in a way that enhances these functions.

Recent Work

In recent years, there has been more research on the connection between Indic wisdom and MLE. Indic wisdom refers to the philosophical and spiritual traditions of India. Some of the key concepts of Indic wisdom include the importance of dialogue, reflection, and the cultivation of inner resources.

One study that investigated the connection between MLE and Indic wisdom was conducted by Dr. Nirmala Rao and Dr. Uma Krishnan. In their study, they found that the principles of MLE were consistent with the principles of Indic wisdom. They also found that the use of Indic concepts and symbols could be helpful in making MLE more accessible and relevant to learners from India.

Another study that investigated the connection between MLE and Indic wisdom was conducted by Dr. Deepak Sethi. In his study, he found that the use of Indic concepts, such as the gunas (qualities) and the chakras (energy centers), could be helpful in understanding the cognitive processes involved in learning. He also found that the use of Indic practices, such as yoga and meditation, could be helpful in enhancing the effectiveness of MLE.

These studies suggest that there is a potential for connecting MLE and Indic wisdom. However, more research is needed to fully explore this connection.

If you are interested in learning more about MLE, there are a number of resources available online and in libraries. You can also find training programs in MLE that can help you learn how to use this approach in your own teaching.

ICELP (International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential) often holds workshops and training programs on Feuerstein’s methodologies. Visit their official website for details.

Here are some references for further reading:

  • Feuerstein, R. (2000). Mediated learning experience: Theoretical, practical and research foundations. (3rd ed.). Jerusalem: ICELP Press.
  • Feuerstein, R., Rand, Y., Hoffman, M. B., & Miller, R. (1980). Instrumental enrichment: An intervention program for cognitive modifiability. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
  • Kozulin, A., & Presseisen, B. Z. (1995). “Mediated Learning Experience and Psychological Tools: Vygotsky’s and Feuerstein’s Perspectives in a Study of Student Learning”. Educational Psychologist, 30(2), 67-75.
  • Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). “The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice”. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(2), 74-101. (This article discusses the effectiveness of different training methods, including mediated learning, in a corporate setting)
  • Rao, N., & Krishnan, U. (2012). The role of Indic wisdom in enhancing the effectiveness of mediated learning experience (MLE). Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 11(2), 135-150.
  • Sethi, D. (2015). The impact of integrating Indic concepts and practices with mediated learning experience (MLE) on the cognitive abilities of learners. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 14(1), 25-38.

Acknowledgments: I appreciate Anil Sachdev, K.K. Nohria and others in my group who showed a lot of curiosity and interest in mediated learning and inspired me to write this blog. @Raghu Ananthnarayanan Sai SambatAnil Grovor Noa Schwartz Feuerstein

IIW Web Team