Skip to main content

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).

Popular posts from this blog

Learning that Matters

Originally posted on Fractus Learning - 5.3.16

“Today we speak casually of lifelong learning, but in a few decades, it will likely be so much the norm as hardly to require its own label.” - David Perkins

You’re an educator with your finger on the pulse of what’s relevant to teaching and school. Being well read, you know that educational thought leaders are focusing recent dialogue on learning. Schools have always been places of learning, but few can deny the impact the Internet has on a person’s ability to learn whatever they want, whenever they want. Let’s have some fun by responding with the first word that pops into your mind.

Fill in the blank to complete the following phrase;______________________ learning.

The possible answers are numerous, aren’t they? Is your response included in the table below?


Authentic Problem-based Project-based Individualized Personalized Cooperative Flipped Mastery Community-based

To Email, or Not

Should current students learn how to use email?


As someone who celebrates a clean email inbox about once every five years, I found it interesting that the topic of student email usage was on the agenda of our recent high school leadership meeting. The focus of this brief conversation concentrated on these questions.



How can we get students to utilize their school email account better? Should we be teaching students how to communicate with email?When and where should email usage skills be taught? Who's responsibility is this?Why do we want kids to check their email? Those around the conference room table agreed with the importance of students checking their email to stay informed about upcoming events and opportunities. Others mentioned it as being an important part of "digital executive functioning." Time was running short when someone said, "Kids don't use email."

This brief statement sent my mind scurrying in several simultaneous directions. 

First, thinking …

Practice Makes Learning

“Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.”― Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success
Yesterday, I sent a tweet to my friend Aaron Davis to congratulate him on his excellent blog, Read Write Respond, being recognized as a finalist for an Edublog Award (#Eddies15). He graciously responded with this...
@robert_schuetz@debsnet congrats to you too Bob. You got a gig as well — Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs) December 11, 2015My first thought was, "whaaaa?". My second thought was, Aaron's in Melbourne and I'm near Chicago, must be something lost in translation. After checking out the Edublog site, sure enough, my blog is listed as a finalist in the Teacher Blog category. Honor and pride began percolating for two reasons. 
First, my blog was listed along with others that I read, and comment on, nearly every day. Blogs from people I hold in high regard as friends, as thought-change leaders in education, and as peopl…