Some Conclusions About Learning

As we get closer to the start of another school year (my 34th year working in education), I’m thinking about what I would tell myself if I was starting out. Here is my current list:

  • Students must take an active role in learning. Although physical activity is associated with learning, “active” refers to cognitive activity. The work of holding information in short-term memory, reflecting on it, changing it, and thinking about it is essential for learning.
  • Learning is as much a social activity as it is a cognitive activity.
  • We learn best if we find an emotional connection to what we are studying; if we don’t care, we don’t learn.
  • Learners are individuals, and each learns is a slightly different manner. The differences that matter include physical and cognitive differences as well as cultural and experiential differences.
  • Learning requires hard work that challenges us, but that is not overwhelming. Tasks too easy are boring, while those too difficult are incomprehensible.
  • Classrooms should include clear expectations from the start of an activity as well as opportunities for formative assessment. These structures facilitate students as they learn to self-regulate their learning.
  • We learn best when we can form horizontal connections between what we know and what we are learning.