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Learning Theories

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1- Chew, S. L. (2010). Improving classroom performance by challenging student misconceptions about learning. Observer, 23(4), 51-54

I use Dr. Chew’s video series (related to this article) “How the get the most out of studying (http://www.samford.edu/how-to-study/default.aspx?id=45097158623) as a first week assignment for any class I teach. Dr. Chew’s main point in this article (and videos) is that students make choices about their studying practices, attendance to class, multitasking, etc based in their beliefs about how people learn best, which is often full of misconceptions. Some of these misconceptions are: 1) “learning is fast” 2) “Knowledge is composed of isolated facts”, typically written down in flashcards to aid memorization. This is definitely not an approach that would lead to comprehension of the material; 3) “Being good at a subject is a matter of inborn talent”. 4) “I am very good at multitasking”. The key for successful learning is discovering the truth behind these misconceptions, as well as the level of processing students are using while studying. Deep processing includes not only elaboration or making meaningful associations between the concepts they are studying and related concepts, but also the capability to relate concepts to their own personal experience. This is particularly meaningful to me and I usually ask my students to describe one concept they remember leaning when they were in middle school. I then ask them why they remember it so well. They usually give me examples that are related to emotions or a meaningful experience. Dr. Chew also points out the importance of practicing appropriated retrieval and application for the material (i.e., practicing re-call and use of the information). I think this is related to peer-teaching. If they can explain the concept to a peer they have reached a deep level of understanding and they can easily retrieve the information.

 

2-Ambrose, S., M. Bridges, M. DiPietro, M. Lovett, and M. Norman, 2010. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. Wiley, San Francisco, CA.

 

The second principle listed in this book says: “How students organize knowledge influences how the learn and apply what they know”. This resonated with me a lot because I see this in myself, in the way I learn. Also, it is the first question I ask any student that comes to my office hours asking for advice to improve their studying and grades: “how do you study? Do you try to make connections or just to memorize the material?” Relating this to the first learning theory I listed, I think the most important aspect of learning is what we think about when we are studying. The connections we make, the relationships we establish, and even (why not?) our emotional response to certain topics. I often see that students that are struggling with a topic are likely just trying to memorize concepts (or memorize my slides) without any sort of organization that enables them to reason about the situation later. For this students I try to encourage the use of concept maps, or outlines to create the habit of putting their thoughts in order and think about a topic in an organized way. Ambrose et al., (2010) presents interesting research about knowledge organization, stating that its usefulness will depend on the tasks they need to support. This invited me to reflect upon the tasks I ask my students to perform in class, which are related to the knowledge organizations they will most likely develop, as a way to promote students’ learning.

 

3- MARTON F and SÄLJÖ, 1976. On Qualitative Differences in Learning — 1: Outcome and Process. Brit. J. Educ. Psych. 46, 4-11    

MARTON F and SÄLJÖ, 1976. On Qualitative Differences in Learning — 2: Outcome as a function of the learner's conception of the task. Brit. J. Educ. Psych. 46, 115-27

For a commentary about these articles: http://facultyprograms.org/images/ST...20Learning.pdf

 

Ference Marton and Roger Saljö demonstrated that students learn not what teachers think they should learn, but what they perceive the task to demand of them. They can essentially use two types of strategies for learning: surface or deep. Those using a ‘surface’ approach see a task as requiring specific answers to questions, so they learn in pieces (I guess unorganized, as stated in item 2); students using a ‘deep’ approach want to understand, so they focus on themes and main ideas. One of the main points of the articles is that when students don’t get the point of what they were reading is “simply because they were not looking for it.” This is extremely meaningful to me. Basically this is telling us that the students’ perception of our classes and courses plays a big role and dictates the intention and the vigor with which they will apply their usual or preferred study strategy. And this is where our role as educators plays a huge role. The assessments we write will set the learning environment and move students toward a deep or surface approach.

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