How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts and Cultures

This is the first of a series of posts examining the new text How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures a companion to How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. In this post I share my reaction to chapter 2: Context and Culture.

“Learning does not happen in the same way for all people because cultural influences pervade development from the beginning of life.” (p. 22)

In this chapter the author’s dig into the concept of culture and how it impacts not only “what people learn but also how they learn” (p. 23). The impact of culture on an individual’s learning is vast when all of the components of culture are taken into account. The chapter covers topics including:

  • The role of culture in learning and development
  • Learning as social activity
  • The dynamic interaction of culture, biology and context
  • Social and emotional influences
  • Physical influences

Some of the most interesting takeaways:

The importance of early childhood education and childcare:

“A large body of work published before HPL I (but not addressed here) established that socialization practices – caretakers’ ways of interacting with children – shape how children learn, what they learn, how quickly they learn, and even what the developmental end point of that learning is (for everything from walking to how they interact socially).” (p. 24)

Cultural impacts on biology & childhood development:

“Human development, from birth throughout life, takes place through processes of progressively more complex reciprocal interactions between the human individual (an active, biopsychlogical organism) and that individual’s immediate physical and social environments. Through these dynamic interactions, culture influences even the biological aspects of learning.” (p. 28)

The impact of emotion on learning and motivation:

“People are willing to work harder to learn the content and skills they are emotional about, and they are emotionally interested when the content and skills they are learning seem useful and connected to their motivations and future goals” (p. 30)

Strong beginnings

As I read this chapter I couldn’t help thinking about how much of this content is driven by the very beginnings of children’s lives and how little influence our institutions of education have on those circumstances. It also reminded me of some work that has been done to identify the high return on investment in early childhood education. The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania has collected some great research and articles about this topic here.