Why we need a shared theory of learning.
“If we know how they learn,
we can see how to improve our teaching?”
Why Learning Theory?“A theory…is a model that accurately explains large groups of observations….and allow us to make definite predictions about future events” Stephen Hawking
(We are using the term 'theory' in the scientific sense of something derived from the evidence, not in the everyday 'that's only a theory' sense. Alternative words are: Shared model, shared understanding, shared conceptual framework.)
What makes a good theory?Any theory is a simplification of reality. Good theories:
- explain a high percentage of observations
- make predictions which can be tested
- are not easily falsified
The role of neuroscience
Most observers agree that we are very far from the point where we can ask neuroscientists for advice on how to teach. However, neuroscience - the study of the brain - can be used as the basis for an explanation of the evidence.
The evidence-sources we can use are:
- classroom experiments
- cognitive sciences
Let's 'give it a go'.
Would you agree with the following draft statements? They are brain-based explanations for the evidence we see in learning. (This is not meant to be comprehensive, just for starters!)
Principles and Implications
- Spaced repetition is vital for this process.
For the new learning to be understood, it must link to existing, prior knowledge.
- If the prior knowledge is missing, the new learning may only be retained by rote.
Sense data enters the student’s brain all the time from many sources.
- The student needs to maintain attention on the learning material.
The information which is attended to enters Working Memory.
- The student’s WM is easily overloaded.
Accessing secure long-term memories uses less WM space.
- Mastery of the basics is essential for higher learning.
Repeated pathways create long-term memories whether they are correct or incorrect.
- Feedback is needed during the learning process to avoid misconceptions.
The brain has a huge capacity to process visual material with little effort.
- Teaching materials should combine visual/images and words.
If you would be interested to help develop this model/shared understanding/theory, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other sourcesThe theory we build will not be our own invention! The theory is simply the patterns we see in the evidence and several people have 'had a go'.
- Daniel Willingham (a Professor of Psych at U of Virginia): Wikisummary of "Why Don't Students Like School?"
- Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education: "Top 20 principles from psychology for teaching & learning"
- Tom Sherringham: "Evidence-Informed Ideas Every Teacher Should Know About."