What is Learning?

Learning seems like such a simple word, but is it really?  How would you define learning? For something so familiar to us, it is not an easy task.  Learning is a change in behavior that results from experience and discovery.  Learning can be as basic as the process needed to tie one’s shoes or as complicated as deriving a calculus formula.  All learning is active, takes time, deep thought, and connects to prior knowledge.  The time needed to learn content is directly related to the quantity of material being learned (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).  This is important because learning cannot be rushed.  Students need time to process and make connections to deepen their understanding.  The prior knowledge that students have directly impacts their overall learning and understanding of the material.  Just as no two students learn the same way, no two students have the exact same past experiences.

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Image Credit: Kelsey Masserant created with Tagul

One example may be a student growing up on a dairy farm in Michigan and a student who spent his entire childhood in New York City.  Would these students have the same knowledge of how to milk a cow, take care of animals, or navigate a subway?  Absolutely not.  The student from Michigan may have such a strong schema of working with animals that he has reached the expert level of understanding. The learning of experts compared to novices is very different.  Experts have an extensive knowledge of one idea that impacts how they “organize, represent, and interpret information in their environment” (2000).  They organize their knowledge into general ideas or concepts and apply what they already know to previous learning.  Novices are less likely to notice patterns and principles that may be used to solve a problem.  Novices use facts to compare and contrast in their learning (2000).

It can be difficult to teach a class of children because there is a mix of experts, novices, and everything in between.  Some of them may walk in the room knowing a great deal of information about a topic and others may have never heard of it.  Teachers need to take time getting to know their students so they can challenge them appropriately and move them forward in their learning.

I have experienced this firsthand with my students in co-taught Geometry.  With a co-taught setting there is a wide range of abilities and pushing the special education students to reach the higher levels of their classmates can be quite a challenge.  On the first day of school most students freak out, display confusion, and feel that they have no idea what is going on.

As I get to know the students and as we move through the curriculum it is amazing to see how they develop as learners. The “experts” are pointing out connections to prior concepts and encouraging “novices” to remember Algebra topics where they solved a problem similarly.  The experts are immediately recognizing patterns and deepening understanding of the new content.  To help reach the special education students we use thinking routines such as Connect, Extend, Challenge that help foster the transfer of information.  Making Thinking Visible, supports these ideas of moving towards a teaching approach where students have more time to explore and discover connections on their own.  I feel that by using the routines and pushing this mindset shift with my coworkers, we are on the right track for giving students what they need in today’s world.


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Photo Credit: Kelsey Masserant

Using technology in the classroom is exciting for both my students and me.  The internet is an explosion of opportunity for our young minds to explore.  “Our children are connected to people and to knowledge in ways that no other generation before them has been” (Daly, 2012).  As teachers we need to model proper ways of using technology to collaborate, create, and promote a culture where technology is an acceptable tool for learning.  Just as we want our students to reflect and grow as learners, we need to reflect and grow as teachers.



Building my professional learning network and collaborating with other educators will benefit my future students.  I will continue adding to my technology toolbox with these important ideas about learning in mind as they are becoming the foundation of education.  Technology use in the classroom needs to be well thought out beforehand and purposeful to support all learners, whether they are novices or experts.  Technology can provide avenues for students to express, discover, and become active learners that transfer knowledge.  Technology is opening doors that we never knew existed.

Bransford, J., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

Daly, J. (2012, September 14). Why School? TED ebook author rethinks education when information is everywhere. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://blog.ted.com/why-school-ted-ebook-author-rethinks-education-when-information-is-everywhere/



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