HPL II – Chapter 8 – Digital Technology

“…learning technology is most useful when it is designed to meet specific needs and contexts” (p. 164).

I read sentences like this and I sometimes wonder…does that really need to be written? Is this an a-ha moment for anyone? Are we still doing things in classrooms without thinking about why we are doing them?

Unfortunately the answer (as most students would attest) is a loud YES. Informally I’ve spoken to many students of all ages who’ve expressed frustration with an activity that is taking place in their class that they don’t understand the reasoning for. It doesn’t make sense to them why they are doing what they are doing and in too many situations – they don’t feel comfortable asking why.

One of the reasons I really enjoy working at the intersection of education and technology is that technology makes it more difficult to do anything without having a reason for why you are doing it and a methodology for sharing this with students. I think of it as the ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment. These moments happen with traditional teaching methods too, only it’s more challenging for a student to ask “Why are you lecturing this content? How do you expect me to process this material?” because lecturing as a teaching method is normalized within our society. It looks like “good teaching”, it’s familiar, and has been used for decades. However, it’s much easier to question a new methodology because it lacks this normalization – which is actually a really good thing. It forces educators to be more critical of and deliberate with their approaches to learning and teaching because they need to be ready to explain them.

When  students are asked to create a web site to share their papers on – the emperor has no clothes. What’s the purpose of the extra work here? What are you trying to accomplish in this medium – and does it work? If you can’t answer those questions meaningfully – you are missing the why.

Assignment: Create a poster of your research using Illustrator. No additional info given.

Assignment: Create a podcast of your interview. No additional info given.

However, each of these assignment has a potential ‘why’. The key is in the description and assessment of the assignment.

A web site – can be used to strengthen persuasive skills in a multi-modal context. Teach and assess your students on the variety of ways that visual and navigational elements can impact someone’s understanding of a new concept. Added bonus? – Integrating digital and information literacy skills into your curriculum.

A poster – can be used to distill the most salient points of your research into a format that can be consumed by someone with limited knowledge of your academic area. Creators need to consider what is common baseline knowledge in a set population and adjust the description of their work to target that audiences’ pre-existing knowledge.

A podcast – can be used to tell a story using first-hand accounts. Podcasts also lend themselves to helping students examine the power of narrative and specific examples in helping audiences to connect to complex topics. Creators can layer in storytelling and analysis to draw a more nuanced and personal argument.

In each of these examples what is most often missing is a more specific breakdown of what the assignment is trying to accomplish. Often this is hidden under the guise of “engagement”. Using a new mode of communication will allow my students to better engage with the content. While that’s often very true – we still need to explain how and why.

This explanation can help on many levels. The authors point out that

“Whether technology is motivating to people is likely to depend on the learner, the task, and the learning context” (p. 173).

The authors also reference 5 stages that creators often move through: 1. Identify or find a place where creation is happening, 2. Lurk or watch what’s going on, 3. Begin to make small contributions to creations, 4. Create their own material, and finally 5. Begin to lead the creation of materials (p. 175). This is important information for teachers to be aware of. It indicates that taking time to familiarize oneself with the process of creation is not a quick or single-step process. For authentic creation to take place, students must be given time to assimilate to creation environments.

No technology has a defined outcome. In fact, “there is considerable evidence that use of a single instructional technology can lead to different outcomes when used by different learners in different contexts” (p. 194). The “why” is so important and it’s more difficult to avoid explaining why you choose to use a certain technology than why you have chosen to lecture today. We should be asking and answering the ‘why question’ for both actions – but for now technology seems to be the home of “why”.

HPL II – Chapter 7 – Implications for Learning in School

In chapter 7 the authors examined how learning in school would be impacted by the points discussed earlier in the book. Some of the most outstanding points are summarized in quotes below that focus on the experience of school for different students.

“School is a cross cultural experience” (p. 136)

“A key dimension of creating equitable classrooms involves building a classroom environment where all students’ ideas are valued” (p. 141)

“Third spaces: social environments that emerge through genuine dialogue between teachers and students” (p. 142)

The concept of “third spaces” particularly stuck with me. In my experience, creating a third space was often the only way I was able to establish trust with my students. Until they felt that I truly cared for them as individuals and was interested in what they had to share, we made little progress. Logically this makes sense to me, particularly for students who may have lost trust in an education system. It’s a signifier of the importance of interpersonal communication and empathy as teacher qualities.

Discipline Specific Learning

This chapter also focused on discipline-specific learning and the differences between “ways of thinking and intellectual challenges” within different areas (p. 143). It seems to me that this is an area that could be explored at great depth and after doing a little research I found an article titled “Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace in New Directions for Teaching and Learning in 2004. In this article the authors outline seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning that include:

“What is a bottleneck to learning in this class?

How does an expert do these things?

How can these tasks be explicitly modeled?

How will students practice these skills and get feedback?

What will motivate the students?

How well are students mastering these learning tasks?

How can the resulting knowledge about learning be shared?”

“Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace

If we work to put ourselves into the place of the learners we can see how important these steps are. Middledorf and Pace point this out explicitly:

“We need only imagine ourselves in a learning situation that is unfamiliar to us–a first lesson in knitting, a new computer program, or the grammar of a foreign language–to realize that simply hearing a lecture on a complex process is rarely sufficient to permit us to actually perform the task and to imagine it with dozens of other new procedures”

(Middledorf and Pace, 2004, p. 7).

This chapter emphasizes how much we expect and how much we need of our teachers. We need them to be both experts in their field, and individuals who possess the ability to empathize and connect with students who have experienced life in a complexity of ways that is never reproduced the same.

Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom

  1. Consider one way that you can create a third space in your class. Is this something that you already do, and if so – is it effective? Devise a strategy to establish rapport individually with all your students.
  2. Begin to work your way through the seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning. Identify the bottlenecks within one class that you teach. How can/do you address these?
  3. Evaluate and reflect on any strategies that you use or have used in the past to address these issues. What is working well? What needs to be improved? Use these reflections to fine tune your practice in the next semester.

HPL II – Chapter 6 – Motivation to Learn

Motivation changes.

“Motivation is also increasingly viewed as an emergent phenomenon, meaning it can develop over time and change as a result of one’s experiences with learning and other circumstances” (p.111).

This makes it a challenging concept to pin down to a neat set of bulleted points to follow. However, it does not mean that learner motivation can not be impacted by a teacher’s actions. This chapter connects motivation to several components of a learners’ beliefs and values including

  • A growth vs. fixed mindset
  • Self-efficacy
  • A sense of belonging
  • The value of a task to a learner (based on interest, connection to learner identity)
  • Learner interest (personal or situational)

Intrinsic motivation has a strong impact on learners as well. Autonomy, competence, and psychologoical relatedness all play a role in motivating learners. (p.115). Conversely the impact of external rewards on learning is strongly contested with some believing that “External rewards…may also undermine the learner’s perception of autonomy and control” (p. 115). However, others point out that external rewards like praise can positively impact learning if they focus on interest, encouragement, and guiding learner progress (p. 116). It’s also important that praise focus on effort vs. ability.

Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom

  1. Incorporate self-assessments and goal setting into the introduction of the course to enable students to integrate interests and strengths into their plan for the course.
  2. Include community building activities like peer review and pre-assessment into your course structure to reinforce a sense of belonging among the group. Use office hours to get a better read on students’ sense of belonging as the course progresses. Make adjustments as needed based on this feedback.
  3. Ask students to monitor and share their progress towards personal goals and next steps based on this progress throughout the course.
  4. Use the information collected in steps 1 and 3 to help direct feedback to guide learner progress and their effort towards meeting those goals

HPL II – Ch 5 – Knowledge and Reasoning

This is the third 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 4: Processes that Support Learning.

Iterative knowledge building, learning and knowledge-related biases, and the value of “desirable difficulties” and elaborative interrogation are only four of the topics covered in this chapter but they are more than enough to focus on for this blog posting.

Learning Iteration and Bias

Meaning making is knowledge building and it’s a task all learners work through based on experiences they’ve had inside and outside of structured educational environments. As noted in chapter 4 memory is a “partial” but not a “perfect” record of what actually happened. In this chapter the authors further explain how

“…memory traces with common elements [that] are simultaneously activated and linked, knowledge is expanded and memories are iteratively reworked” (p. 86).

A web of connections to present and past experiences underscores all of the work that learners are doing to make meaning of new pieces of knowledge.

Picture of author as a child

Me as a novice learner. Strawberry Shortcake was my alter ego.

“…studies underscore the active role of the learner; that is, even young children do not simply accrue knowledge from what they have experienced directly but build knowledge from the many things that they have figured out on their own” (p. 87).

Expertise comes with many benefits and is most often seen as an asset in any environment, but although experts can organize their knowledge more efficiently and effectively, they also often have learning biases which are “implicit and unknown to the individuals that hold them” (p. 91).  A learner’s initial level of knowledge can also impact their interpretation of new knowledge (p. 92). Biases can have both positive and negative consequences. They can:

  • “Undermine the acquisition of new knowledge and skills” (p. 91)
  • “…blind individuals to new evidence” (p. 92)
  • “Promote well-being and health” (p. 92)
  • “Refine perception and serve to blur distinctions within categories that are not meaningful” (p. 92)

Desirable Difficulties & Problem Based Learning

Some of the desirable difficulties or “useful challenges” that are identified in this chapter as the best ways to positively impact learning include:

  1. “Retrieval practice
  2. Spaced practice
  3. Interleaved and varied practice
  4. Summarizing and drawing
  5. Explanations: elaborative interrogation, self explanation and teaching” (p. 98)

Problem based learning can also present useful challenges to learners and the learners point out that this learning technique “…instills in learners flexible knowledge use, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning, collaboration and intrinsic motivation” (p. 94).

Putting it into practice

So how do you apply this to the classroom? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have students start a unit of study with a self reflection of what they already know about the topic. Use this as a starting point for them to examine as they move through the unit of study so they actively identify ideas/concepts that are disputed or different than what is being discussed and studied in class. Encourage them to examine why that is. Where did the original understanding come from? Is there some truth there?
  2. Identify content in your class that students need to know quickly in order to access other knowledge. Definitions and calculations often fit nicely into this category, however you could also use this activity with a topic like connecting the correct genre to a piece of writing to help students become more comfortable with identifying and differentiating between different genres of writing. Using a quiz mechanism return to this practice of retrieving the correct answer/classification throughout the semester using different examples and questions. By spacing out these practices you will further strengthen students’ knowledge and retrieval skills
  3. Design a problem based unit of student that requires students to explain and teach complex topics to support their proposed solution. This activity has the added benefit of providing potential presentation and public speaking practice. Like this — SO AMAZING!!

What’s up next?

Next week we’ll take a look at one of my favorite topics – motivation.

Pumpkins and Processes that Support Learning

This is the third 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 4: Processes that Support Learning. PS: You’re going to have to read a bit to understand the relevance of pumpkins – but trust me – it’s in here. 🙂

In this chapter the authors explore the ways that learners use different processes to put the pieces of learning together. The authors refer to this as “orchestrating learning” and explain that it is comprised of three core parts: 1. metacognition, 2. executive function and 3. self regulation (p. 70). Some of the findings in this section that were most intriguing to me included:

Development and Decline of Executive Function

“Components of executive function develop and decline in neither linear nor binary (all or nothing) fashion” (p. 72).

Since so much of learning is built on a structure of building skills over time, it was interesting to consider that this is not the timeline on which all components of executive function get stronger or weaker.

Becoming Self-Regulated Learners

“Successful self-regulated learners have developed the skills and habits to be effective learners, exhibiting effective learning strategies, effort, and persistence” (p. 73).

The concept that learners can be taught methods to improve self-regulation is particularly exciting when I think about the world of online education where self-regulation is a critical component. This indicates that scaffolding in skills and habits to help students be successful, can be an effective way to address and correct deficits in this area.


Picture of a pumpkin

My pumpkin…grown just a few years after I drew my first one.

I learned the most about memory in this chapter. As I read about the way that the brain processes, uses, and recalls memories I couldn’t help but think of some of my earliest memories and consider the reason why those memories are clearer than others. One of these memories is of drawing a pumpkin that was sitting on a big pink circle. I still have that picture. It’s tacked into my baby book and highlighted as my first piece of “art”. After reading through this chapter I wondered whether my memory of drawing the picture is strengthened or completely derived by the baby book entry.

To explain consider that the authors point out that the common conceptual model of memory as a “filing cabinet” is faulty. The authors explain:

“What the storage metaphor does not capture is the fact that learning actually involves skills for reconstructing memories based on past experiences and cues in the present environment” (p. 74).


“The representation is not a perfect copy of the world but rather a partial record of the individual’s subjective interpretation and perception” (p.75).

So it is entirely possible that my memory of drawing the picture is recalled from a partial record of the visual imagery in the book and the memories my parents have shared of that time.

Connecting Memory to Learners

I found the following three connections to educational contexts and working with learners’ memory to be most impactful in my work to support learning design:

  • “First undue weight should not be placed on any single assessment of learner’s knowledge and skills.”

  • “Second memories are reconstructed more easily in situations that feel conducive and relevant to the content of the memory” (p. 77)

  • “…help learners recognize and leverage their strengths in other contexts” (p. 77).

For example, many athletes can use their experiences playing sports to consider elements of physics (the movement of a ball) or interpersonal skills (teamwork and leadership).

Putting it into practice

Using the information from this chapter here are four action-oriented steps that you can take to integrate these findings into your curriculum to improve student learning:

  1. Explicitly teach skills and habits to help students become successful self-regulated learners. For example, topics such as time management, discipline specific note-taking methods, and self-checks on understanding would all work towards this goal.
  2. Use multiple assessments to measure student learning and use the information collected by these assessments to develop a more holistic understanding of the students’ strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Make instruction relevant/connected to student experience in order to make it easier for students to process and remember course content. Presenting examples that feel familiar to students can help to achieve this goal.
  4. Early in the semester have students self-assess their learning strengths and weaknesses and identify one step to work on to strengthen a weaker skill. Return to this work throughout the course and ask the students to reflect on their growth in this skill at the conclusion of the semester.

Looking Ahead…

Next up is chapter 5 which focuses on knowledge and reasoning. As a parent – I’m particularly interested in the reasoning portion of this chapter!


Picture of a closet

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 https://flic.kr/p/aDLzzs

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.


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.


Image of sky with Nelson Mandela quote: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use the change the world."

The Connection between Motivation & Exploitation in Education

Image of sky with Nelson Mandela quote: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use the change the world."


A synopsis of chapter 9 “Technology to Support Learning” of How People Learn.

As a technologist I was most intrigued by this chapter’s title and was curious to see whether words written in 1993 would accurately reflect the current direction of educational technology. As you could probably expect a lot of the suggestions and ideas were aspirational and hopeful of technology’s promise in an educational context. Many of the concepts are still relevant and more easily possible and commonly practiced in education such as distance interviews and opportunities for teacher learning.

However, I was most taken by the last paragraph of the chapter which reads:

“Good educational software and teacher-support tools, developed with a full understanding of principles of learning, have not yet become the norm. Software developers are generally driven more by the game and play market than by the learning potential of their products. The software publishing industry, learning experts, and education policy planners, in partnership, need to take on the challenge of exploiting the promise of computer-based technologies for improving learning. Much remains to be learned about using technology’s potential: to make this happen, learning research will need to become the constant companion of software development” (HPL, p. 230).

The use of the term ‘exploiting’ seems almost prophetic to me. Unfortunately, I think what has actually happened is the reverse of the suggestion above. Software companies are largely exploiting schools and their students. How People Learn may have overlooked or underestimated the impact of money on motivation within the software industry and the way in which our capitalist economy rewards profit over care. In order for software companies to prioritize learning science over their own interests, they have to value altruistic principles over money. This is one of the reasons that I feel strongly that our government has to stay steadfastly committed to excellence (and FUNDING) within our public school system. Although the promise of privatization often centers on innovation and flexibility, I think we overlook the impact that individual company’s motivations can have on the direction in which education is driven when we are financially reliant on their funding mechanism. It is essential that the singular motivation for our educational system is care for our students and an expectation of excellence for all.

Vulnerability, messy learning & research — How can we be better?

Picture of a sunrise

Every new day is a new chance to learn.

A synopsis of chapter 8 “Teacher Learning” of How People Learn.

This chapter of How People Learn (HPL) focused on ways that teachers continue to learn once they are in their own classroom and how those compare to what we know about how people learn. The authors categorized the opportunities for learning for practicing teachers into three buckets:

  • Their own practice
  • Interactions with other teachers
  • From teacher educators in the schools (HPL, p. 191)

What I found most intriguing about this chapter is something which I have personally noticed about my teaching practice: the impact that being a parent has on my ability to teach. The authors noted that teachers “…learn about the intellectual and moral development in their roles of parents” (p. 192). This is not to say that a person without children cannot teach, however being a parent provides a unique longitudinal perspective of children’s development over years rather than semesters that can significantly impact an individual’s understanding of where a student might currently fall on that developmental spectrum.

The learning opportunities for teachers were also examined using the framework of learning environments that I discussed in my last blog post here. As a refresher those environments were:

  • Learner-centered
  • Knowledge-centered
  • Assessment-centered
  • Community-centered

I was most interested in the section on being knowledge-centered as it focused on the ways in which teacher prep programs impact this centering. For a little personal background, I attended an undergraduate college with a primary focus on education majors (k-12) that was founded as a teacher’s college. I was an English major with a focus in Secondary Education, however I was friends with several students in the Elementary Ed and Early Ed degree programs and I found it fascinating to see the differences in our curricula. The difference in comfort-level with specific subjects was very interesting. In my quick summary – it appeared that secondary ed majors were trained as specialists in content and generalists in pedagogy, whereas the El Ed and Early Ed majors were specialists in pedagogy and childhood development and generalists in content. It was satisfying to see this observation reflected in the HPL authors’ inventory of challenges facing teacher prep programs:

“4-year undergraduate degrees make it difficult for prospective elementary teachers to learn subject matter and for prospective secondary teachers to learn about the nature of learners and learning” (HPL, p. 202)

Consequently many student teachers feel vulnerable in various components of their student teacher placements. As the authors note:

“Learning involves making oneself vulnerable and taking risks, and this is not how teachers often see their role” (HPL, p. 195)

I immediately thought of all of my observations when I was student teaching and teaching in high school and how those lesson plans were always my least ‘risky’. I wanted to be in complete “control” of those lessons and project a classroom that “looked like good learning”. The problem is, in my experience and through much of what I’m reading in HPL, students often learn the most in very “messy” environments.

“When they [teachers] encourage students to actively explore issues and generate questions, it is almost inevitable that they will encounter questions that they cannot answer — and this can be threatening” (HPL, p. 195).

Raise your hand if you want to tell a student “I don’t know” while being observed by your direct supervisor. This is especially true if the culture of the school does not support the significance of this type of learning.

“Beginning teachers are especially influenced by the nature of the schools in which they begin their teaching” (HPL, p. 204).

Lastly, the authors attention to the way in which educational research is detached from classroom practice demonstrates one of the most wide-reaching negative impacts on the teaching profession as it is seeded at the beginning of most teachers’ careers.

“…a message is sent to prospective teachers that research in education, whether on teaching or learning, has little to do with schooling, and therefore, that they do not need to learn about the findings from research” (HPL, p. 202).

The example that always springs to mind is the many times I have heard teachers talk to other teachers and students about learning styles. In 2008 Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer and Robert Bjork authored an article titled “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In their paper they outlined the research methodology that would be required to prove or disprove the science of learning styles and concluded that “…there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number” (“Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence”, p.105).

In 2017, in an article titled “Evidence-Based Higher Education – Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important?” in the journal Frontiers in Psychology by Philip M. Newton and Mahallad Miah, the authors point out that “…a substantial number of participants (32%) stated that they would continue to use Learning Styles despite being presented with the lack of an evidence base to support them…” (“Evidence-Based Higher Education – Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important?”) which reinforces the authors of HPL’s stance that teachers are taught that

“…educational theory and research have little to do with classroom practice” (HPL, p. 203).

So my question to you – how does this change? Why don’t we listen to the research?

picture of a child in snowstorm catching snowflakes

The child is at the center

picture of a child in snowstorm catching snowflakes

A child’s environment fundamentally impacts their learning

A synopsis of chapter 6 “The Design of Learning Environments” of How People Learn

I am currently working on building out a series of blog posts in connection a session I presented on creating a more student-centered Canvas course site. You can view what I’ve written so far here. So I was very pleased to see a reference to learner-centered environments as I read through Chapter 6:  The Design of Learning Environments, in How People Learn. In particular the authors point out:

“We use the term “learner centered” to refer to environments that pay careful attention to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that learners bring to the educational setting” (p. 133).

It struck me that this also connects tightly to the focus of Chapter 3 and how transfer occurs for learners of all abilities and the significance that both prior learning and experiences impact both learners and their environment. Cultural practices are also addressed – “Learner-centered instruction also includes sensitivity to the cultural practices and the effect of those practices on classroom learning” (p. 135). I’d encourage you to take a look as they provide some specific examples of how these different practices can drastically impact the instructional method chosen by teachers.

In addition to a focus on learner-centered environments this chapter also examines the ways in which environments are centered on knowledge, assessment and community. When considering how knowledge-centered an environment is the relevance to a student’s day-to-day life is critical as is the balancing of “…activities designed to promote understanding and those designed to promote the automaticity of skills necessary to function effectively without being overwhelmed by attentional requirements” (p. 139).

An assessment-centered environment also seeks balance by offering opportunities for revision, and adeptly utilizing both formative and summative assessment to foster students’ learning. It was reassuring to note the way in which a learner-centered focus wove its way through each of the other “centers”. For example, when concentrating on assessment the authors point out that “Effective teachers continually attempt to learn about their students’ thinking and understanding” (p. 140).

Assessment can also be used for teachers to self-reflect on their instruction. “Appropriately designed assessments can help teachers realize the need to rethink their teaching practices.” (p. 141). This emphasizes the iterative process of teaching and the way in which a teacher’s methods should evolve over time as they learn more about the different environmental levels they are working in and the students they are working with.

Lastly, the authors discussion of community-centered environments took into account the different levels of communities including classroom, school, homes, community centers, after-school programs and businesses (p. 147). Special attention is paid to the way in which cultural practices can impact classroom communities and what practices are well-received which is a good reminder that norms are not globally or even regionally standardized. Some of my favorite quotes from this section include:

“Teaching and learning must be viewed from the perspective of the overall culture of the society and its relationship to the norms of the classrooms” (p. 147).


“A key environment for learning is the family” (p. 148).


“Children also learn from the attitudes of family members toward skills and values of schooling” (p. 148).

Every passionate educator that I have ever met understands that the child is at the center of every educational experience. It was reassuring to see that focus reflected in this reading as well. Learning is a personal thing and I remain convinced that it can only be done really well when an educator is aware and receptive to all of the impacts that a child’s many environments have on their view of the world.