How does learning work?

At a recent conference I attended someone was asking about the role of psychology in learning. A colleague followed up with a book recommendation (How learning works), and summary – I haven’t read the book but will, but I like the question the book answers How does learning work? I think this is quite a big, but interesting area, here are some thoughts that the question.

During the workshop I mentioned Terry Anderson et al’s book on eLearning. Chapter 1 contains a nice summary of different schools of learning. (here is a link to chapter one ).

These schools of learning get to some of the assumptions we might make when we try to answer the question “how does learning work?”

I tend to work from a constructivist perspective, the thing I try and remember is that this is my preference rather than what is right …

Try it for your self – what are some of the assumptions you make about how people learn ….. do those assumptions apply to you?

Actually how do you learn? How have you learned how to learn?

I took a course on Adult learning some years ago – the first module was to learn something and then write a critical reflection on how we had learned and how we knew we had learned something. I found it hard to do at first because I had to develop an awareness of what I was doing, thinking about learning how to learn was new to me. If you are thinking about getting more into learning it might be a very helpful exercise.

A colleague also made the comment “One final word–not all that we know about good educational practice comes from psychology. It also comes from experience and reflection about what works”.

I very much agree with that idea – I think workshops like ours are a very important part of reflecting on our experiences of what works and what didn’t. If anyone has links to publications on such reflections I would appreciate seeing them. The book I mentioned in an earlier post is one such resource – it is an extended reflection by a group of people thinking about what works from experience in distance and online learning.

One area I think we are becoming more aware of is the importance of emotional connection in our learning contexts. Pat Parrish has written about this in some of his work on instructional design.In a course I attended the facilitator started the event by asking people to recall their first shift and if they were willing share what that felt like, I used it in a recent course and it helped the people on the course connect what we were learning with their “real world”, it also helps create a positive emotional space for learning, where we value each other.

What do you think – does a positive emotional space matter – how? How do we co-create one? Does emotional connection matter, what does it mean to be emotionally connected or engaged in a learning process?

And what does it mean for us as trainers/facilitators/educators/organizers? what makes it a meaningful experience for us, what effect does that have on the courses we organize?

Connected with this is what we disclose about ourselves in learning environments, it is helpful when students and teachers hare about their own experiences, but we can sometimes over share. Some one at the workshop raised the issue of In the online environment how do we facilitate an environment where people will share from their own experience? What is the role of anonymous identities of logins?

Some people are more comfortable with their online identity than others – and there is some work now being done on what it feels like to work and learn online. for example, an interesting paper challenging the idea of digital immigrants and digital natives and covers the idea that online learning feels a little strange – not like learning as we know it.


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