The bad news is that most data seem to show that students are not learning nearly so much in college as we would hope - or as we imagine is happening (see, e.g. Another study showing students are not learning). The good news is that learning research shows us how to improve those outcomes. However, the additional bad news is that most academics have no idea what the research says or, more important, what the research says should be done in a real classroom to get better learning.
One of my collegues recently introduced me to an excellent book that seeks to remedy this last bit of bad news. The book, How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, describes seven crucial principles of learning, the research that supports those principles, and their implications for teaching. Each principle is made more concrete by a set of instructional strategies that can be used for its implementation. The authors of this work are Susan Ambrose, Michael Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha Lovett, and Marie Norman. and the book is based on approaches developed at the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at Carnegie Mellon.
Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.
- Students' prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
- How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
- Student's motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
- To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
- Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students' learning.
- Students' current level of development iteracts with the social, emotional, and intellectural climate of the course to impact learning.
- to become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.
Each chapter comes with recognizable examples showing common classroom problems that arise when one of these principles is not addressed effectively. The authors also give the critically important warning:
Ironically, expertise can be a liability as well as an advantage when it comes to teaching.
They show us why expertise sometimes blinds us to what students need in order to learn, and present strategies to overcome these blind spots of our expertise.
All in all, an excellent "how to" book on learning and teaching that should be in the library of everyone whose job description involves helping students to learn.