How People Learn II: Types of Learning and the Developing Brain

This is the second in 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 3: Types of Learning and the Developing Brain.

Chapter 3 of HPL II focused on discussing different types of learning and examples to demonstrate that learning. It was fascinating to examine the different ways that learning occurs and apply those different types to various teaching methods.

My take-aways from this reading:


“…the prevalence of habit-driven acts shows that much of our behavior is not consciously chosen” (p. 39)

Remembering being a novice & perceptual learning

“It is easy to forget how dramatically people’s perceptions and actions can be changed by experience because once they have changed, the individual no longer has access to the earlier perception” (p. 44-45)

“The importance of perceptual learning for academic topics can easily be underestimated. One reason is that experts may not realize how much of their understanding steps from perceptual learning” (p. 48-49)

The impact of “critical and sensitive periods in development”

“The best-known example of a critical period is that for development of vision: without the opportunity for sight during certain periods of infancy, the brain will forever be visually impaired” (p. 57)

Brain Adaptation in Response to Learning

“The reciprocal interactions in learning between the dynamically changing brain and culturally situated experience form a fascinating developmental dance, the nuances of which are not yet fully understood” (p. 59).

“Individuals are not infinitely adaptive, but the extent to which they can rise to cultural expectations when provided with opportunities and support is impressive” (p. 62)


Novices, experts and messy closets…

I’m always intrigued by writings that explore the differences, weaknesses and strengths of novice and expert learners because teachers need to float in this space to really be successful. They need to have the expert in-depth knowledge of their discipline to provide context to facts and methods to help new learners make sense of new knowledge, but they must also remember what it was like to be a novice to be able to empathize and support their students.

Picture of a closet

Closet by Sofy Marquez, cc licensed on flickr at

I envision learning like a closet. If you throw facts at a new learner it’s like throwing clothes on the floor of a closet. You get a pile of junk that all needs to be sifted through to find one piece of information. If a teacher structures their content in a way that contextualizes each piece of information and works to connect it to other ideas and methods in their discpline, they are placing those clothes on sorted hangers. It provides a structure, or schema for students to more quickly and logically connect ideas and sequences in ways that make sense. An added complexity explored in HPL II is the way in which cultural schemas can impact knowledge creation and interpretation.