How People Learn
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The Best Choice .... according to the experts
- Learning occurs in context.
- Learning is active.
- Learning is social.
- Learning is reflective.
Driscoll (2002) proposes the following principles for how people learn:
- Learning occurs in context: Learning must happen within certain context. Without an appropriate setting, learning is unlikely to succeed.
- Learning is active: "Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand." This Chinese proverb suggests that learners have to be mentally active during learning activities, make connections between the new knowledge and existing knowledge, and construct meaning from their own experiences.
- Learning is social. Learners benefit from working collaboratively in groups so that they can hear different perspectives and accomplish the learning tasks with the help of their peers and experts.
- Learning is reflective. Learning is facilitated when learners are given chances to express and evaluate their own thinking.
Different Learning Theories
There are three dominant learning theories which provides different perspectives on how learning occurs.
- Behaviorism: Focuses on observable behavior rather than non-observable mental events. It suggests learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience (Ormrod, 1999). The learner must be engaged in the behavior in order to learn.
- Cognitivism: Focuses on the internal mental events. Cognitivism considers how people perceive, interpret, remember and think about the environmental events they experience. It suggests learning occurs when information is mentally processed and the structure of learner's knowledge changes.
- Constructivism: Constructivism is also internally oriented, asserting that one's knowledge, as well as the learning process itself, is constructed by the learners according to their interpretation of their own experiences.
What is learning?
Different learning theories give different definitions for what learning is.
- Behaviorism Perspective of Learning
- “Learning is a change in human disposition or capability that persists over a period of time and is not simply ascribable to processes of growth.” (Gagne, 1985, p. 2). It represents itself in a change in behavior.
- Cognitivism Perspective of Learning
- “Learning is a relatively permanent change in a person’s knowledge or behavior due to experience. This definition has three components: (1) the duration of the change is long-term rather than short-term; (2) the locus of the change is the content and structure of knowledge in memory or the behavior of the learner; (3) the cause of the change is the learner’s experience in the environment rather than fatigue, motivation, drugs, physical condition, or physiological intervention.” (Mayer, 1982, p. 1040).
- “Learning is a process that takes place inside a person’s head.” This process “enables organisms to modify their behavior fairly rapidly in a more or less permanent way.” (Gagne & Driscoll, 1988).
- Constructivism Perspective of Learning
- Jonassen & Land (2000, p.v) suggested that constructivists believe that learning is “willful, intentional, active, conscious, constructive practice that includes reciprocal intention-action-reflection activities.” Therefore, learning is “conscious activity guided by intentions and reflections.”
Driscoll (1994) suggested that many learning theories do share some basic assumptions about learning:
- Learning is a persisting change in human performance or performance potential.
- To be considered learning, a change in performance must come about as a result of the learner’s interaction with the environment. Learning requires experience. How these experiences are presumed to bring about learning distinguishes different learning theories.
Research Studies about Human Learning
There is a multitude of research studies that have been conducted to investigate how people learn and how to facilitate learning. We have included outcomes of a very limited sampling.
The Ways That People Learn
A research study, How people learn: Bridging research and practice (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, eds., 1999)), summarized three key findings of how people learn based on robust research. The findings have significant implications for teaching and learning:
- Students have preconceptions about how the world works before they come to the classroom. Research suggests learners start to make sense of the world at a very young age. Many research experiments show the persistence of preexisting understandings. Therefore, teaching has to integrate their preexisting knowledge in order to be effective.
- Research that compared the performance of experts and novices on learning and transfer suggest that in order to develop competence, students must have deep understanding of the factual knowledge, understand the facts/ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and organize knowledge in certain ways which can facilitate retrieval and application.
- Research on performance of experts and research on metacognition also suggests that learners can be taught to define their learning goals and monitor their learning progress.
How to Facilitate Learning
A lot of research studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of different instructional strategies on human learning. The following sample research studies investigate the effects of illustrated text and animations on human learning and provide some general guidelines on using illustrated text and animations in teaching and learning process.
- Levie and Lentz (1982) conducted a metanalysis using the instructional treatments developed by Dwyer which was presented in a text format or programmed booklet. All studies included in the metanalysis included a text-only condition. Based on 41 comparisons of treatments with text plus prose vs. with text only using four criterion measures (drawing test, identification test, terminology test, comprehension test), Levie and Lentz (1982) reported that 36 comparisons favored illustrated text and 4 favored text alone.
- Park and Hopkins (1993) summarized 25 studies investigating the effects of dynamic versus static visual displays. Fourteen of the studies found significant effects for dynamic visual displays. The findings suggest that dynamic visuals are effective under some circumstances.
- Rieber (1990) stated “The power of animation … comes from the potential for creating a wide assortment of practice strategies. In 1989, Hannafin and Rieber (1989a, 1989b) conducted two research studies to compare a traditional questioning activity to an activity involving student control of an interactive dynamic in a structured simulation which taught Newton’s law of motion. When subjects were adults, the question practice group and interactive dynamic practice group performed equally well, however, the interactive dynamic practice group required significantly less time to answer posttest questions. It suggested that the interactive dynamic practice “supported encoding and retrieval tasks better than traditional questioning” (Rieber, 1990, p.83).
Different Learning Styles
Learning styles refer to the ways that learners perceive and process information. There are three different learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual learners learn by seeing and looking; auditory learners learn by hearing and listening; kinesthetic learners learn by touching and doing ("What's your learning style?" 2004). Different instructional strategies should be utilized according to different learning styles.
Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D. & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds). (1999). How people learn: Bridging research and practice. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
Driscoll, Marcy P. (1994). Psychology of learning for instruction. Needham, Ma: Allyn && Bacon.
Driscoll, M. P. (2002). How people learn (and what technology might have to do with It).
Retrieved May 14, 2003, from http://www.ericfacility.net/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed470032.html
Gagne, R. (1985). The conditions of learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston .
Gagne, R. & Driscoll, M. (1988). Essentials of learning for instruction (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Hannafin, M. J., & Rieber, L. P. (1989a). Psychological foundations of instructional design for emerging computer-based instructional technologies: Part I. Educational Technology Research & Development, 37(2), 91-101.
Hannafin, M. J., & Rieber, L. P. (1989b). Psychological foundations of instructional design for emerging computer-based instructional technologies: Part II. Educational Technology Research & Development, 37(2), 102-114.
University of Maryland (2003). How to promote learning of the new terms (Maryland Faculty Online Web Site).
Retrieved May 14, 2003, from : http://www.mdfaconline.org/modules/module_c08/module_c8.html
Jonassen, D. H. (Ed.) (2003). Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc.
Jonassen, D. H., & Land, S. M. (2000). Preface. In D. H. Jonassen & S. M. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments (pp. iii-ix). Mahwah, NJ: LawrenceErlbaum Associates
Levie, W. H. & Lentz, R. (1982). Effects of text illustrations: A review of research. Educational Communication and Technology Journal, 30, 195-232
Mayer, R.E. (1982). Learning. In H.E. Mitzel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of educational research ( pp.1040-1058). New York: Free Press.
Ormrod, J. E. (1999). Human learning (3rd edition), Sydney, New South Wales: Merrill, Prentice Hall Australia Pty Ltd.
Park, O.C. and Hopkins, R. (1993). Instructional conditions for using dynamic visual displays. Instructional Science, 21, 427-449.
Rieber, L. P. (1990). Animation in a computer-based instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 39(1), 77-86.
Seels, B. & Richey, R. C. (1994). Instructional technology: The definition & domains of the field. Washington, DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology
University of South Dakota (2004). What's your learning style?
Retrieved May 14th, 2003, from http://www.usd.edu/trio/tut/ts/style.html