What is Learning?

If you were to ask a room full of teachers what learning you would probably have many different interpretations of what it actually means.  The actually definition of learning has changed so much in the last decade.  Unfortunately, education has limited students in the past, and even now, in a sense that learning was demonstrated by memorizing information and then being able to recite it.  Students often have limited opportunities to understand or make sense of topics because many curricula have emphasized memory rather than understanding. (Bransford, 2000)  Textbooks are filled with facts that students are expected to memorize, and most tests assess students’ abilities to remember the facts. (Pg 9)   Fortunately, there are many studies and more and more teachers questioning this now and change is slowly beginning to shift this mindset.  After reading How People Learn it seems a little more clear to me about what learning actually is and how it should be.  Learning is exploring the world and making connections to what we already know to make sense of the world, solve problems in the world as well as survive. Humans are viewed as goal-directed agents who actively seek information (Bransford, 2000).  It is unfortunate that the way our education system has been set up actually discourages students to want to learn.  At different points in history, scholars have worried that formal educational environments have been better at selecting talent than developing it (Bloom, 1964).  Standardized testing has limited teachers to the “drill and kill” methods of teaching which takes away from students desire to learn.  I remember hating school when I was growing up.  My sister could ace anything without even reading the material whereas I had a lot of difficulty.  I often compared myself to her and others in school and ended up not enjoying school.  Plus, I thought school was boring.  Learning was not supposed to be that way in my eyes so that is why I became a teacher.   Now that I am a teacher I feel the pressure and restrictions yet I still strive for making it relevant and fun.

There are many differences between expert and novice learners according to the readings.  Expert learners reason and trial and error their way through problems to solve them whereas novice learners have trouble getting the problem solving started and see things very secluded from past experiences.  The chess example showed how expert chess players had a better recall of where the pieces were located if and only if they had arranged the pieces to meaningful spots in the game of chess, yet it was untrue when just randomly placed on the board.  What that tells us is that those that have previous knowledge of a concept have an easier time building on it if they connect the two.  An expert learner is flexible and adaptive and recognizes patterns and organizes information for simple retrieval.  A novice has trouble predicting moves to come, and tends to spend too much time retrieving previous knowledge.  A novice also does not recognize the need to learn.  I think this was my problem throughout school, I saw myself as stupid and I did not want to work to change that.  I now know I am anything but stupid and that I am very good at problem solving, it just took me a while to get there.  Many people who had difficulty in school might have prospered if the new ideas about effective instructional practices had been available. (Bransford, 2000)

The teaching methods that support learning are ones that support transfer of knowledge.  Teachers can see that learning has happened when students are able to transfer knowledge of into different contexts.   Also teachers that promote abstract representations and allow for reflection help to enhance the learning process. To increases active learning and transfer teaching practices congruent with a metacognitive approach to learning include those that focus on sense making, self-assessment, and reflection on what worked and what needs improving. (Bransford, 2000) The ultimate goal of schooling is to help students transfer what they have learned in school to everyday settings of home, community, and workplace. (Bransford, 2000)  If my students cannot take the math I teach them and apply them to situations they experience in the world outside of school then I have done them a disservice.  Considering that the students we teach now are digital natives we need to find ways to integrate technology as much as we possibly can or we are not preparing our students for any of their future endeavors. 


Works Cited

Bloom, B.S. (1964). Stability and Change in Human Characteristics. New York: Wiley.

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., and Cocking, R.R. (2000). How People Learn Brain: Mind, Experience, and School Expanded Edition. National Academy Press. Washington, 3-79.


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