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Learning Sciences; Driving Evidence-based Instruction

How do people learn?

For centuries, educators and philosophers have wrestled with this simply stated, but confounding, question. Understanding how the mind works were left mostly to introspection or analogous comparisons with hydraulic systems, telephone switchboards, and computer circuitry. Dr. Daniel T. Willingham, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, and author of "Why Don't Students Like School?" mentions these representations aren't based on scientific investigation or research.
"Is it possible many of our long-held beliefs about teaching and learning are based on supposition, opinion, and anecdotal insight into how the mind works?"

Technology and scientific research is changing what we thought we knew about brain development and functions of the mind. Teaching and learning will undoubtedly change as this new information becomes readily available to educators. 

In an article recently published in ISTE's magazine, Entrsekt, Jennifer Fink tells us, "Learning sciences are an interdisciplinary science, informed by neuroscience, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, sociology, and computer science." Simply, learning sciences, a relatively new field of research, is the study of how people learn.



Our minds and our learning are always changing. Learning sciences are revealing new methodologies and new resources for teachers. Instructional designer, Mindy Johnson, says it's important for educators to adapt their instruction according to what science is teaching us about learning.

Learning sciences is busting some myths about the inner workings of our minds:
  • Information processing is distributed across both hemispheres of the brain.
  • Brain development continues well into adulthood and neural density can increase or decrease throughout our lifespan.
  • Background knowledge significantly impacts current and future learning.
  • Learning styles theories, while often criticized, provide experiential relevance to the class content.
Surprisingly, the brain is not designed for thinking, rather it's designed to save us from having to think. It's automaticity that allows us to do everyday tasks, like driving, without thinking about them. Dr. Willingham says people are intrigued by solvable problems. In other words, curiosity and relevance are key factors of engaged thinking. "The difficulty of a problem", says Willingham, "is enormously important." This means our minds do not readily engage when presented with problems that are either too easy or too difficult to solve. Understandably, differentiation and personalization of learning are supported by learning science research.

In a world where students can acquire information easily and almost instantly, it's essential for students to learn how to learn, and to learn more about their own learning. This knowledge will make learners better able to adjust and thrive in a rapidly changing modern environment. Metacognition and reflection will raise awareness about a student's thought processes and learning techniques. Learning sciences indicate the importance of personal relevance and social interaction to engaged thinking. Immediate, meaningful feedback is proving to be very helpful in advancing student learning.

Learning sciences are a new and evolving field of study. Scientific research of the brain is helping us gain a better understanding of the mind. This new knowledge will help educators take guess work out of some long-standing classroom practices, many which have no basis in science or research. Ultimately, this will lead to increased student engagement, greater personal fulfillment, and strategies that cultivate life-long learning. Perpetuating learning in a modern world, where would you rank this on your list of meaningful school endeavors?

Photo Credit: Elisa Rivas, Pixabay CC0

Comments

Aaron Davis said…
I must admit that I haven't read much of Willingham's work. I did find Cathy Davidson's work interesting (http://readwriterespond.com/?p=1664).

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