Learning vs Thinking

The following was written by RDI® Certified Consultant, Christine Chalmers-Manton and was first published in 2012.

Stop Learning NOW!

What was the last thing you learned?

What did you do with your newly acquired piece of knowledge?

Did you file it away in your brain and walk away knowing it was there but never using it or did you think about it?

Recently I learned to stop learning.

Jacob Barnett, a 12-year old autistic boy, believes that we should make the “transition from learning to thinking to creating.”

That is, we should stop merely learning different skills or pieces of knowledge and start focusing on thinking about things with our own unique perspective.

Once we have thought, we may be able to create.

So I started thinking and realized that so much of our everyday interactions and doings are based on the ability to think.

We are capable of learning many things but our knowledge will mean very little unless we are prepared to utilize it.

The art of deciding how to use one’s knowledge is thinking.

When we think, we are able to make connections (personal or with others).

Once these connections are made, we create.

It is not to say that learning is not important.

Learning is only useful if you are a thinker!

Naturally if you are thinking you are going to be motivated to learn.

Imagine if we stopped teaching children to be learners and started teaching children (and adults for that matter) to be thinkers!

The main focus would need to be on transitioning importance from what you know to how you use what you know.

Moreover, using what you know to create something whether it is with someone else or to further your own thought processes.

How Do You Transition From Being a Learner to a Thinker?

The RDI® Program provides guidance in helping children (& adults!) with this process.

In general, RDI® encourages one to give the practical application or meaning behind the learning.

Instead of focusing on mastering skills, teach the importance of the skill.

Take social skills for example.

A child can learn social rules but these rules are only useful if the child understands why and how to apply the rules.

Spotlight the process – not the end result.

Instead of giving praise for something that was learned, praise the process that was used to achieve the end result.

Wow, that looked tricky. You had a go and kept trying. Woo hoo!

As guides, create opportunities for the child to think and realize something.

In this moment of uncertainty transitioning to realization the child will utilize his knowledge and apply it to solve the problem.

The child is requesting a favourite toy but not referencing the adult.

The adult pauses and waits.

The child seems confused.

Why isn’t the adult responding? The child starts thinking and looks over at the adult.

AHA! Now the child has a moment of it takes two to communicate.

The adult then responds to the child accordingly.

Oh, the power of thinking!

Most importantly, practice what you preach.


Christine Chalmers-Manton (B.A. Psychology with Honors) is the director of Connecting-Minds Pty Ltd in Melbourne, Australia. She began working with children with autism in 2002 and discovered the RDI® program in 2007. Now a certified consultant, she enjoys working collaboratively with families to help autistic children become the best they can be!   


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