Principles of Learning from New Faculty Orientation 2020

The following was presented at the virtual New Faculty Orientation at UCO for the Fall 2020 semester, by Dr. Jody Horn — 

Brain-Based Principles of Learning:

  1. Malleable; Changed by Experience
  2. Connects New Information to Old
  3. Unique and Uniquely Organized
  4. Not Equal, because context and ability influence learning

Other important concepts to consider for effective teaching:

  • Active Retrieval: More mental effort, but long-term memory increases when repeatedly retrieving information
  • Aligning/Authentic Assessment: What students are assessed over should be what they are learning which should match the learning activities
  • Clear Learning Goals: Students who know where they are “going” in class are more likely to be successful
  • Encoding: Learners must encode information into their longer-term memory
  • Feedback: Students must receive timely feedback on their performance to help them encode and learn
  • Metacognition: Students learn through reflecting, and they learn how to learn by reflecting on how they learn! This will lead to them becoming lifelong learners.

The fact that learning is malleable is significant because that means it can be impacted by students’ practice. To take advantage of this feature of learning, faculty should have a growth mindset and use certain classroom activity practices: scaffolding, active learning, and peer-to-peer instruction.  Also, to help mold student learning, they should consider using rubrics for just-in-time feedback.

Constructivism is a theoretical underpinning of student learning that says we create our own knowledge based on individual sets of experiences. What can faculty do to help or hinder student learning under this philosophy?

Help them discover prior knowledge and connect it to new knowledge:

Beginning of Course: First day final exam, Background knowledge probe (short answer format, response to a case), Concept test

Throughout Course: Entry/Exit Tickets, Quick write, Muddiest point, Minute paper, Describe personal relevance

End of Course: Final papers, projects, and presentations; Tests; ePortfolios

Not discovery-oriented, hinders learning: Bottlenecks in learning (stuck at a concept and can’t learn more), Knowledge built on false conceptions, Memorization

Picture of synapse of 2 neurons with with words Encoding - Storage - Retrieval and "Repeated Retrieval, up arrow, Deeper learning"Repeated Retrieval of information —-> Deeper Learning
Repeat their neural processes of Encoding —> Storage —-> Retrieval

To help them store and retrieve, consider helping them organize information and concepts. Organized knowledge can help them better retrain, transfer, think critically about, and integrate the ideas from the information. Disorganized knowledge is more superficial, sparsely connected to other concepts, and/or incorrectly connected to other concepts.  Help students organize information by:

  • Providing students the organizational structure of the course
  • Explicitly making the connections among concepts or categories covered in class (show cause and effect processes, assign concept mapping to reveal correct and incorrect connections)
  • Monitor student work regularly for problems in their knowledge organization (could use quick writes, summary statements,  or muddiest points activities)

But what if they don’t care about learning the information? Consider the research on student motivation. Student motivation is tied to:

  • Autonomy: Do they feel in control of their own learning? To whom do they attribute their success in learning? Strategies that help with this are exam wrappers, critical reflection, learning surveys, study outlines, taking notes, student-generated rubrics, giving students choice on projects/papers
  • Competence: Do students feel they can accomplish the task ahead? Strategies to help students here include: giving explanations about cognition and how the brain works (plasticity, growth mindset); giving examples of completed assignments; testimonials from past students; allowing student-created syllabi
  • Sense of belonging and relatedness: Students in a class hold each other responsible for each others learning. Strategies to assist include: First day reflections (what/why do they want to get out of this class); first day ice breakers; group learning and problem-based learning; think-pair-share activities
  • Self Esteem: Students feel that they can “do it.” Strategies that help include: Past student testimonials; growth mindset; student reflection on past successes in high school or other classes

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