How do we learn? Is it by observation, by reading, by actively participating in an activity or is it some combination of those things?
I was prompted to ask myself this question recently when I read a post from a new turkey hunter on one of the popular Internet hunting forums. His was a pretty direct question concerning the best shotshell and choke for his particular shotgun. Over the years I've seen that question asked at least hundreds of times and have responded to that type of question through this web site, probably a few thousand times over the years.
What prompted my thought about how we learn was the almost immediate response from several forum members. Most were very certain that a particular choke tube and shotshell were perfect for his gun. Unfortunately for the new hunter, the responses differed substantially. So, what did our new hunter learn from his inquiry?
That of course leads to the next question. How did all of the respondents “learn” that the choke and shell they recommended was the “perfect one” for our new hunter?
We now have at least 2 questions to answer. What if anything did our new hunter learn from the answers he received and how did the respondents come up with the answers that they provided?
Maybe some reflection on the learning process will be helpful. My wife Doris taught school at one time and I used to enjoy hearing about the tools she used to inspire her students to learn.
One course that she taught has always intrigued me. It discussed the ability of people to add more knowledge to the knowledge they already had in a building block manner. It's called HOTS, an acronym for “Higher Order Thinking Skills”.
The basis of HOTS is that as we obtain more knowledge of a subject we add it to what we already know and continue to do that block by block, so that each time we add a block we know more about the subject than we did previously. We can begin a task where we left off the last time.
Without HOTS we start all over each time we begin a task.
HOTS also entails being able to evaluate the information that we take in, see the strengths and weaknesses of it and use that information to solve problems. It is the opposite of rote learning where we simply accumulate facts without evaluating them for use in solving problems.
How does all of this relate to the questions asked by our new hunter and to the answers given to him by the respondents?
In order to use our higher order thinking skills we must “...evaluate the information we take in...and use that information to solve problems.” That means that we must first take in a good bit of information so that we can evaluate it.
That probably means that in order to recommend a choke tube or shotshell, we must not only have used that combination extensively but we must also have used a number of other combinations, evaluated them and through that process “building block” process determined that the combination that we are recommending is indeed the best one for our new hunter.
When we start to discuss shotshell and choke performance we also know that there are many variables than can influence that performance greatly and each of these are building blocks in our learning process. Ambient temperature is probably the greatest influence but the condition of the bore and even how the shotshell has been handled can play a part it its performance.
Since most hunters do not invest the time and money necessary to extensively evaluate every possible combination of shotshell and choke tube, under all possible conditions, does that mean that they should not give our new hunter advice? Probably yes but that's not going to happen.
We all know that advice is very freely given on the Internet on just about every subject. You can use your favorite search engine and find, sometimes thousands of responses to any question you might ask. Recommendations for chokes and shotshells for turkey guns are no different.
So, what is the answer?
We as responsible hunters and shooters need to police ourselves and consider just how many of those “building blocks” we've used to arrive at our conclusion that one combination is the best one for a particular shotgun. If our experience is limited, we should state that and tell of our experience in the particular situations in which we've shot shells or chokes.
In that way we can help our new hunter make an informed decision as to the best place for him to start his quest. We're really all in this together and the more light we can shed on how we've reached our conclusions the better.
Do I really expect this to happen? No, not really but perhaps by discussing the process by which we learn we can use those building blocks to evaluate the source of advice and start to build our own knowledge base that will allow us to make a better decision as we choose the tools that we use.