Here are some facts and questions that may help to stimulate your thinking about learning and teaching.
Compared to novices, experts have more knowledge, knowledge that is organized more meaningfully, and knowledge that is better cross-linked and integrated (Bedard and Chi, 1992). How can we help learners organize their new knowledge meaningfully? How can we help them relate facts, concepts, and principles within and across multiple courses?
Compared to novices, experts are better able recognize and categorize problem types, generate more likely solutions, and solve problems more accurately (Bedard and Chi, 1992). What kinds of instruction and practice help learners become better problem solvers? How can we, as experts, model effective problem-solving for learners?
Conscious, deliberate thinking is effortful and tiring. We make most decisions quickly and unconsciously, with short-cuts that usually work, but not always. It is easier for us to recognize short-cuts in others’ thinking than in our own. (Kahneman, 2011) Critical thinking is most successfully taught in the context of another subject, with explicit thinking protocols (Abrami et al., 2008). What critical thinking protocols are used for for our disciplines? How can we embed critical thinking training within and across multiple courses? Can we exploit the ability to see assumptions in others’ thinking to help teach critical thinking skills cooperatively?
Prior knowledge is a critical factor in successful learning (Dochy, Segers, & Buehl, 1999). Complete and accurate prior content knowledge allows learners to learn, integrate, and retain new knowledge more quickly and effectively. Incomplete prior knowledge slows new learning. Learners with inaccurate prior knowledge may resist or discount information that conflicts with what they think they know. (Ambrose & Lovett, 2014). How can we assess the unique prior knowledge of each learner? How can we help learners with insufficient prior knowledge and skills catch up? How can we help learners recognize and correct inaccurate prior knowledge?
Learners learn more successfully when they value the learning (for a variety of possible reasons), believe they can learn, and believe their environment is supportive (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010). How can we identify and support the unique motives of each learner? How can we help learners value the learning experience in our courses? How can we help learners believe they can achieve academically? How can we make the learning environment in our course most supportive?
Better learners are usually better at planning, evaluating, and revising their learning processes. Overall, however, most learners have poor metacognitive skills. Explicit prompting and embedded self-direction processes are two promising strategies for improving learners’ metacognitive skills. (Girash, 2014). How can we help learners in our courses become better self-directed learners?
Paying attention engages working memory, where new information is encoded for long-term memory. Attention and working memory are both limited in capacity. Attention can be maximized by minimizing distractions and insuring that supporting skills and knowledge are learned well enough that they don’t require conscience attention. (Rekart, 2013) How can we engage and keep learner attention? What distractions might divert attention, and how can we minimize them? How can we assess that learners have the required supporting skill level, and help those who don’t to catch up?
The more deeply new information is processed in working memory, the better it is retained long-term. Deep processing involves meaningful thinking, such as visualizing information and relating it to what one already knows. (Rekart, 2013) Other forms of meaningful processing include generative activities (e.g., writing notes and summaries, outlining, and writing test questions) (Bertsch & Pesta, 2014), and explaining new information, processes, and ideas to oneself (Chiu & Chi 2014). How can we help students to learn and choose effective study techniques that help them think meaningfully about what they study? Can we structure assignments to promote generative activities over passive reception activities?
Usually, knowledge must be retrieved periodically to be retained in long-term memory (Rekart, 2013). Practice testing is one of the most effective forms of retrieval practice (Pyc, Agarwal, & Roediger, 2014). Study and retrieval practice is most effective when it is distributed periodically over time and interleaved with the study of other topics (Carpenter, 2014). How can we insure that students get enough practice? What kinds of assignments require retrieval of knowledge? How can we structure course activities so that knowledge must be recalled periodically? How can we most effectively interleave course topics?
Feedback has powerful effects on learning, but the effects can be variable (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Effective feedback provides a clear learning goal, assessment of the learner’s achievement relative to the goal, and guidance for further progress toward the goal (Hattie & Yates, 2014). Learners at different levels of mastery need different kinds of feedback (Hattie & Yates, 2014). How can we communicate learning goals clearly? What kind of feedback is appropriate for our specific disciplines? How can we provide effective feedback efficiently to learners?