10 Principles for Effective Learning

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"Ten Core Principles for Designing Effective Learning Environments: Insights from Brain Research and Pedagogical Theory" (pdf) "provid[es] practical guidance on how to design learning experiences for our new high technology environments," expanding on "ten learning principles [that] illustrate how recent research integrated with traditional principles of pedagogy and instructional design can enrich our understanding of thinking and learning processes."

  • "The principles outlined here can serve as a guide to the design of learning experiences in both online environments and traditional campus classrooms."

The Core Learning Principles (each developed more fully and specifically in the pdf)

1. "Every Structured Learning Experience Has Four Elements with the Learner at the Center."

  • "[E]nvisio[n] a learning experience featuring the learner  'on stage' actively learning under the direction of the mentor/faculty member using a set of resources containing the knowledge/ content/skills to be learned within an environment."

2. "Every Learning Experience Includes the Environment in which the Learner Interacts."

  • "The faculty member's involvement and presence can vary in any of these environments."
  • "[F]aculty will face a range of options as they seek to find the best combination of learning experiences available for their students."

3. "We Shape Our Tools and Our Tools Shape Us."

  • "Tools make a difference in any learning environment ... [and] generally entail a realignment of faculty roles and student learning activities."
  • "Many teachers have been surprised by the shifts in learning dynamics and relationships created by [new learning] tools."
  • "[A]t the same time, many teachers are now enthusiastically embracing these changes as they recognize the many benefits of learners becoming more engaged and active in their learning."

4. "Faculty are the Directors of the Learning Experience."

  • "In theater terms, the faculty member is the director of the learning experience, not the 'sage on the stage' who transmits knowledge."
  • "When the faculty member is acting as the 'sage,' it is the faculty member who is reaping the benefits of working with the content, structuring the content, and communicating the content."
  • "Furthermore, the role of technology in the learning environment allows for the teaching functions of the faculty member to be redistributed in other ways as well."

5. "Learners Bring Their Own Personalized Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes to the Learning Experience."

  • "[S]tudents integrate ... new core concepts into their unique knowledge structures, richly expanding their useful knowledge."
  • "The process of designing learning environments includes anticipating the existing knowledge structure of the learners' brains at the outset of a course."
  • "[F]aculty can tap into students' existing knowledge or mental model ... by asking students about what they already know—or think they know."

6. "Every Learner Has a Zone of Proximal Development That Defines the Space That a Learner is Ready to Develop into Useful Knowledge."

  • "Knowing the state of a learner's knowledge structure helps to identify a learner's zone of proximal development."
  • "[T]he ZPD defines the space that a learner is ready to develop into useful knowledge."
  • The "concept of ZPD not only highlights the importance of preliminary assessments of student knowledge; it also suggests that the window of learning opportunity for any individual student may be smaller than what we might expect."
  • "This ZPD principle emphasizes the need for faculty to be alert to their students' state of understanding and capabilities on a continuing basis."

7. "Concepts are Not Words; Concepts are Organized and Intricate Knowledge Clusters."

  • "Concept formation is not a one-time event; rather, it is a series of intellectual operations including the centering of attention, abstracting, synthesizing, and symbolizing."
  • "Making thinking visible requires students to create, talk, write, explain, analyze, judge, report, and inquire ... [t]o make it clear to students themselves, to the faculty, and to fellow learners what students know or do not know, what they are puzzled about, and what they might be curious about with regard to the course material."
  • "Such activities stimulate the student's growth from concept awareness to concept acquisition, building in that series of intellectual operations ... required for concept acquisition."

8. "All Learners Do Not Need to Learn All Course Content; All Learners Do Need to Learn the Core Concepts."

  • "All content is not equal; only a portion of the content of any course is core concept knowledge, and the remaining content arises through increasingly individualized domains of application, practice, and skill acquisition by the learners."
  • "The goal for all students is mastering ... the whole of the core concepts."

9. "Different Instruction is Required for Different Learning Outcomes."

  • "[W]hat a faculty member does makes a difference in what students do, in what students learn, and in what concepts students may or may not develop."
  • "This principle encourages us to answer the instructional design question of what knowledge, skills, and attitudes you want your students to develop and grow and then to design the teaching and learning events to accomplish those goals and determine what evidence will illustrate student accomplishments."

10. "Everything Else Being Equal, More Time-on-Task Equals More Learning."

  • "[A]s students spend more time interacting with information and practicing skills, the more proficient, accomplished, and confident they will become."
  • "If we design great experiences, students will spend more time interacting with the course content and developing more complex, networked knowledge structures and efficient behaviors."
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