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June 23, 2022 16:11 IST

Our brains are the biggest ajooba (wonder) of nature.
Organic learning happens when we nurture our brains naturally -- by understanding, absorbing and retaining information -- at the pace it can handle, counsels management guru Virender Kapoor.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Almost every career expert we know of is talking about organic learning.

What is organic learning?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word 'organic' as not using artificial chemicals in the growing of plants and animals for food and other products.

How does it apply to us humans, our daily life our food, our health and finally our own mental development?

Let me start with an analogy.

Organic food has become the buzz word of the day. But what is organic really? '

Most people don't know much about it, some think it is a fad and some others just don't care.

So let me explain.

As a broadly accepted definition, organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. It's natural in the truest form.

Over some time, ever since the call for the Green Revolution by then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, in our exuberance to produce more and more agricultural produce, there was a rampant use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

In 1951-1952, fertiliser usage in the country averaged less than 1kg per hectare (2.5 acres) which has now risen to 133 kg per hectare -- that amounts to roughly 53 kg per acre!

Besides this, farmers also use highly poisonous pesticides to protect crops. (The poison is for rats, rodents and insects, but it is poison for you too.) It has been observed that pesticide exposure is increasingly linked to immune suppression, hormone disruption, diminished intelligence, reproductive abnormalities and cancer.

In addition, earthworms and soil microbe populations are also dwindling, and we need more and more external harmful inputs every season to sustain the same production level as the preceding growing season. In our effort to cut our food imports and become a leading producer, we have not only harmed our soil but also the health of the generations to come.

This is the problem our agricultural industry is facing.

The solution is easy: Go back to the basics.

Cow dung, cow pat, cow urine or any animal excreta -- that of goats and sheep too -- can enrich the land and will reclaim the health of the soil. It is that simple.

Initially, it will produce lesser yield but as the soil becomes healthier, you get better yield in terms of both quality and quantity.

So, What Is Organic Learning?

Today youth in India are struggling with skills development. The toppers find a place for themselves and have a better learning and retaining curve. The huge middle mass who are average learners and many below average face the challenge of upskilling and keep up in the race. Organic learning makes more sense for these young minds.

Just like how plants grow naturally and animals live healthy in their natural habitat, humans breathe the same air; our bodies and brains develop the same way -- naturally.

Some of us have already switched to yoga and Ayurveda as a way of life.

Our brains, however, are not synthetic. They are the biggest ajooba (wonder) of nature. It weighs just 1.3 kg and is nothing short of a super computer, a living natural.

Organic learning happens when we nurture our brains naturally at the pace it can handle.

We cannot push it to beyond limits laid by nature. That is what we are doing be learning inorganically.

The central idea of learning is -- understanding, absorbing and retaining.

In recent years we have shifted to learning through online mediums like videos and e-learning.

While videos give lot of information, they may not be the best bet for absorbing and retaining the content.

You are more likely to remember and understand what you read more thoroughly when you choose printed books over digital ones.

Books put knowledge directly into your hands. Yet all the knowledge in the world may have little benefit when you have trouble remembering or processing new information.

Reading can make a difference here, too. The act of reading activates multiple areas of the brain and can increase connectivity in the brain over time.

Engaging your brain by reading regularly can strengthen it throughout your life.

The Many Benefits Of Reading

Though it may be old fashioned, research continues to show that when it comes to reading for learning, paper reading has many more benefits than online reading:

Deep reading

When we hold a book, we receive reminders of how many pages we've read and how many remain.

We can flip pages to reread text as needed. Text itself provides a 'landscape' as we read that helps the memory center become more active.

It engages multiple sense organs

Information is processed more effectively when multiple senses are used.

Touching, seeing, feeling, even smelling the book lead to more sense in use when reading a book.

Intention and focus 

It's easy to be distracted and fall into the habit of mindless scrolling online. '

This is less likely to happen when reading a book, as the act of opening a book, find the place where you left and choosing to start reading is an intentional choice that can make reading more effective.

It is a more deliberate effort to learn and not a casual gloss over or glancing.

Increases retention and comprehension

When we read, our brains construct a map of the text, like recalling that a piece of information appeared near the top, left-hand page of a book.

This map can boost understanding of the material as well as how long we remember it.

Learning via reading vs watching

Reading has been described as an active activity (deliberate) while watching videos have been described as a passive activity.

It's is an active process because it involves more of our cognitive senses to carry out. It requires us to be fully alert to interpret the symbols that make up what we are reading. Our mind needs to go along with what we are reading if we are to make meaning out of it, and our imagination needs to be at the 'front seat' as well.

Watching videos, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It is a passive process. The individual watching it does not need to put his senses on any high alert before he can understand what he is watching. The video just feeds him with the information directly without him taking any active part in interpreting. Watching videos do not put the cognitive senses into any use close to how reading puts it. I call it the Whoooosh affect.

Reading presents more objective and descriptive information. Watching videos, although convenient, mostly presents subjective information.

Unlike watching videos, reading also gives the reader the power to control the pace and comprehend the message.

Differentiating the pace of learning means students learn at a pace commensurate with their abilities in order to maintain their interest and provide a developmentally appropriate level of challenge.

For some high ability students, some of the time, this will mean accelerating to get to more advanced material. At other times, they will want to decelerate, to dig deeper into the complexities of the content.

Flexibility is the key to differentiating the pace; responding to the learner’s need to go faster or slower.

So let's go organic! Learn organic and eat organic to thrive.

Gifted students differ widely in their processing speed and style. Some will be quick and impulsive, others slow and reflective.

What to read

  1. Start with light books like comics. In my MBA career, I used to buy 100 comics every year. You may start with Tarzan, Jughead, Archies and pick up more as you like.
  2. If you don't like comics, you may read romantic novels like Erich Segal's Love Story.
  3. Reading about personalities, especially biographies or real life stories of Vivekananda, J R D Tata, Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Amitabh Bachchan will inspire you.

    Each of them have achieved something in their respective professions and there is a lot you can learn from their lives, failures and hunger for success. For example, Amitabh Bachchan is punctual, forthright, the late J R D Tata was a visionary and Kennedy was a charismatic leader.

  4. You may also read murder mysteries by Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. When you read different genres your mind opens up to different possibilities and you get an overall grip of situations and that helps you express and articulate your thoughts better.
  5. You should also read good fiction like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown or the Meluha trilogy by Amish Tripathi.
  6. Apart from biographies, you must also read topical books, books written by successful people and experts on subjects like maybe cosmology, modern history and other subjects that may excite you. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking is an interesting book that comes to mind.
  7. Do not stop at books. You must be able to read a wide range of subjects and topics. Read newspapers, magazines, journals and follow Web sites and authors in different languages as well.

These tips are not only intended for fast learners or the top of the rack students. We are also talking about average and even below average students and aspiring professionals.

While everyone has a different learning pace, reading books or any informative material will make you curious, build your imagination and nourish your brain into an organic super power.

Virender Kapoor is the former director of Pune's Symbiosis Institute of Management and the founder of Management Institute for Leadership and Excellence in Pune. He has authored more than 36 books on self-improvement designed for school students, senior managers and CEOs.