The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ doesn’t seem to fit the bill of our learning process. Learning is not a simple, straight-forward process. It requires a multitude of steps and an abundance of information coming together, and that process won’t be the same every time. So, the new adage is ‘practice makes better practice’. If learners can develop an understanding of how they learn, it can be applied to future experiences, and that process will never stop.
How do you learn?
This is the question of ages, one that stumps just about everyone. Part of learning to your fullest potential, and cultivating a positive learning environment for others, starts with your ability to understand, and think about your own thinking. So, how do you start addressing this question if you are not a field that has to do with the brain and how it works?
The first step to answering this question has to do with understanding mental representations. In the simplest of terms, they are how our brain functions to help us learn and apply knowledge.
-Logic helps our brain arrive at an understanding based on information we are given, even if it doesn’t always make sense.
–Rules are the mental boundaries our thoughts happen within, which helps us to find solutions, or establish new mental boundaries. Essentially, they are the ‘if, then’ statements.
–Concepts are established to helps us make connections between ideas, words, images, etc. which result in behaviors, however, the concepts can be applied in more than one way.
–Analogies/Cases are the way in which we devise a solution to a problem, by applying mental analogies, or recognizing similarities in the scenarios.
–Images are the mental images our brains create to help us remember significant information. (Thagard, 2012).
The next step to answering the question has to do with the actual learning process, and how we must interact with learning environment to walk away with the most learning potential.
–Playing the Whole Game requires us to make a commitment to the learning process by using skills like problem solving, arguments, craft, etc. to produce a product of sorts or inquire about something.
–Make the Whole Game Worth Playing requires us to weed out the extraneous information, and find intrinsic motivation so what we are leaning resonates with us.
–Working on the hard parts suggests that in order for us to fully grasp the whole game, we must put forth extra work and practice when it comes to areas of difficulty.
–Playing out of town suggests that transferring knowledge and skills from a previous learning experience to the one at hand, helps elevate the new learning process.
–Uncovering the hidden game can be the most difficult part, especially if we don’t know how to find them. However, the hidden games help us to understand the overall game, and raise the bar on our level of understanding.
–Learning from the team encourages us to work and collaborate with others who might have a better understanding of content, or another person we can ‘trade’ knowledge with. (Perkins, 2009).
The final step to answer the question has to do with combining steps one and two together. If you are able to identify and understand how you learn and then apply it to the actual learning experience, you will have a better understanding of the core inter workings of any learning process.
For me, I went into this course, with a very primitive understanding of how I learn. I had a basic knowledge from previous education, human development and psychology courses. Reflecting back on the information presented in this course, I now have a more concrete understanding of how I learn, and interact within certain learning environments. I started to think about situations in the past where I was not successful in the learning environment, and using the steps above, I identified the areas that were lacking or absent altogether.
As an educator, I think this is an important process and practice for us to engage in on a continuous basis, to help us become a better teacher, and to help foster a learning environment that promotes active learning. Many learning environments are constricted by the every changing curricula, standards and policies; and those can make it difficult to slow down the learning process, and make it worth while for the students. Before educators slow down the learning process, they must first understand their own learning process. Once they have a grasp on their own, they become more aware of learning process for each student. Although they might not have a complete understanding of the individual students learning process, it becomes a mutual learning experience for both. In addition to understanding the students learning process, it is also essential for the educator to acknowledge the factors that can impede on the learning process like distractions and illusions. Once again, being able to recognize distractions and illusions in their own learning process, will help the educator to identify them in their students. Lastly, it is important for the educator to create numerous opportunities for the students to become actively engaged in their learning process. Project-based learning gives the students a chance to experience the content in more than one way, which helps form solid knowledge.
Ultimately, the theory and discussion surrounding these concepts is kind of like a ‘duh’ moment. If we can unlock and expose the learning process within ourselves and our students, then the overall learning experience would be robust and positive. However, in practice, these concepts can be difficult to put into practice when there is minimal support, time, and a learning curve. Therefore, some questions arise:
-How can educators become more aware of, and engaged in their own learning process, if they are not enrolled in a program like this one?
-What resources can educators rely on and reference? And, where do they find them?
-How can administrators, and schools in general, create more attention and focus on this concept of learning about your learning?
-What strategies can educators employ in the classroom to help foster conversations with their students about these concepts?
-If the students struggle with verbalizing these concepts, what can be done to develop a better understanding?
-Once the students have a better grasp on their own learning process, how, and what, can schools do to continue promoting a learning environment like such?
-How do the current changes to education standards reflect these concepts, especially when there is a large focus on standardized testing?
-How can project-based learning become more integrated into course curricula that doesn’t typically involve it, like math?
-How do educators accommodate these concepts in the classroom, while making the teaching approach relevant to students’ lives (i.e. the use of technology)?
While we might not have the answers to all of those questions, here are some websites that will help educators start the ball rolling:
Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform education. (1st ed., pp. 1-316). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Thagard, Paul, “Cognitive Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/cognitive-science/>.