Learning is going on all around us, everyday, everywhere, all of the time. But, what exactly is learning and how can it be defined? This is a more difficult question than one may think. Overtime, the idea of learning for knowledge has changed dramatically due to changes in society, and the skills needed to be successful. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon (1996) said, “the meaning of knowing has shifted from being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find and use it,” (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, p.5).
This profound statement has led me to my own conclusions, and thoughts about the meaning of learning from an educator’s point of view: Learning is an in-depth understanding of a concept through exploration, which is then applied to new domains and experiences.
I instantly visualized a scene from the movie Matilda (1996) where students are reciting math facts for their teacher Miss. Honey. Students are sitting in their seats and responding chorally to her questions. This part of the scene supports Simon’s initial thought of knowing, as being able to remember and repeat information.
All of the sudden the scene shifts, and Matilda is able to apply her basic knowledge of math facts to solve a large equation. It is here, that research supports that learners rely on basic facts to become critical thinkers and problem solvers (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).
Ultimately you need both, foundational skills and problem solving strategies. Additionally, it is crucial to note that Matilda thought about her thinking process (metacognition), and explored the concept of multiplying large equations on her own. How People Learn uses an example about arteries to demonstrate that expert learners use their foundational knowledge about arteries, to then show evidence of transfer when asked to design an artificial artery and explain why a certain material was chosen (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).
This is similar to what Matilda demonstrates throughout this scene, and supports that having a strong base of foundational skills, in conjunction with critical thinking skills/strategies are necessary when it comes to problem solving.
When it comes to novice and expert learners, there are different stages within the process of learning for understanding, which can then transferred. Experts recognize patterns initially because of their current knowledge about a topic, therefore they are usually more successful. Novices, on the other hand, must practice the skill or explore the idea to build their knowledge about the topic. According to research, “the development of expertise occurs only with major investments of time, and the amount of time it takes to learn material is roughly proportional to the amount of material being learned,” (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).
Ultimately, time is needed to explore and “play” with a concept. Becoming an expert does not happen overnight, the concept is practiced, it is failed, it is revised. When providing students with new experiences, or new online platforms, allowing them time to play and explore on their own will encourage them to persevere. Ito (2013) emphasizes that connected learning is experiential, and that it is more meaningful when we learn by doing.
Expert learners organize thoughts into big ideas. They use metacognition to consider their own problem solving strategies when given a new experience, which again is something that is practiced. An expert’s use of metacognition allows the expert to analyze whether or not the correct strategy is being used. Metacognition also allows the expert to “approach new ideas with flexibility” and attempt to move above and beyond the standard expectations (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).
Novices need exposure to the skills of metacognition within all aspects of their being, not just academically. That’s where an educator must take responsibility and provide learners with learning experiences that help them build strategies to recognize patterns of information (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000). As educators use technology to teach their students, it is important for them to model their thinking aloud for the students.
As I reflect, I realized that when I use technology tools all of my thinking is done silently. I need to consider how I will model metacognition to my students in the future. As an example, if I needed to place an exponent above a number I would model my thinking and navigation to solve the problem. Maybe I would use the help menu, maybe I would ask a friend, or use a video to show me how to complete the task at hand. Asking questions, and making mistakes in front of students is a way to encourage novices to use metacognition.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Expanded ed.). Washington DC: National Academy Press.
Ito, M., Gutierrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., & Schor, J. Connected Learning Research Network. Retrieved from http://dmlhub.net/wp-content/uploads/files/ConnectedLearning_summary.pdf
Wilson, M., & Davidtz, E. (Actor). Dahl, R. (Writer). (1996). Matilda [Online video]. World-Wide: Sony Pictures Entertainment.
*Quote images made on AdobeSpark by author – Bridget Bennett.