Much of what we know about effective learning was originally taken from the world of academia and higher education; these points can also be translated into occupational and business learning and training spaces. This piece is no different.
Taken from preparation for an annual conference for “American Academics and Higher Education” in 1997, this piece summarises the presentation of Peter T. Ewell from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS)
Where is this research from?
Over 20 years of research in the fields of cognitive science and human learning traditions confirms that there are big differences between those students who can promptly produce the “answers” that we ask for and those who demonstrate deeper forms of understanding. Taken together, they force us to recognize that all learning is rich, complex, and sometimes unpredictable. Building effective environments within which it can happen must rest on a growing inquiry into and knowledge about this complexity.
Doing justice to what we now know about learning succinctly is a challenge. But the following eight insights, taken from the cognitive science and human learning research traditions, seem both inherently compelling and immediately suggestive to those who are contemplating change:
- that the learner is not a “receptacle” of knowledge but rather creates his or her learning actively and uniquely. We aim to put what we have gained in the context of what we already know. We need to process and adapt it in order to “learn”, we don’t just copy blindly.
- that learning is about “making meaning” for an individual learner by establishing and re-working patterns, relationships, and connections. It is a creative process, which is why many of us leave learning events very tired!
- that every student can learn—and does learn all the time—with us or despite us. For the human brain, connection-making is not something discretionary but something that happens constantly by default.
- that direct individual experiences decisively shape individual understandings.
- that learning occurs when the learner is “ready” to learn. Does the individual have the appropriate level of prior knowledge understanding and skills? In physiological terms, because so much investment is made in building neural networks in the first place, the brain attempts to continually re-use existing connections for new purposes (Kotulak 1996).
- that learning occurs best in the context of a compelling “presenting problem” We need the learning to be seen by us as a survival tool for the future.
- that the results of learning atrophy if they are not exercised, while frequent feedback multiplies the already-strong learning effects of practice. Use it or lose it!
- that learning occurs best in a cultural and interpersonal context that supplies a great deal of enjoyable interaction and considerable levels of individual personal support. That learning is a social activity, and we learn best with others, often through debate and discussion
Source: ORGANIZING FOR LEARNING: A POINT OF ENTRY © Peter T. Ewell – National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS)
In the time that has passed since this paper, none of this has been disproved, but we now know how to tap into this with more precision and predictability.