Do we need to know about learning theory or not?

Yes… well kind of…

Learning theory provides us with a why for the what. When we teach learners, we expect them to know the why for the what, so why wouldn’t we expect the same of teachers?

learning-theory
Link to image source
The problem that many practitioners face is that they probably haven’t studied learning theory since their teacher training, and I’m certain that in some cases, much of that was ‘guff’ (Gardners MI, learning styles, learning pyramids etc etc). Much of the theory that I was taught has been debunked and I don’t even know if what I was doing as a result of learning the theory was particularly useful or not. Aside from this, there are so many theories (see above image) that it becomes difficult to determine what is useful to know and what isn’t.

 

For this reason, I recommend that the minimum that all teachers should be armed with is some objective evidence of how students learn best. I have previously written about the different types of evidence you might use to determine how students learn (here). If we know that the reason we are doing something in our classroom is because there is some objective evidence to show that it works, then we should have confidence that we are likely doing the best for our learners. If on the other hand, there is no objective evidence, or evidence that refutes something we are doing, then perhaps we need to consider what we can do better for our learners (I’m not saying that the more subjective evidence is wrong, but there might be something we can do that will be more effective). So where can we get the more objective stuff?

 

Below you will find a range of the more objective evidence that I use. I have summarised each and given a subjective rating out of 5. My rating is based on the security of evidence and how useful it is for a classroom practitioner.

 

Article/ Research Summary My Rating
Dunlosky et al (2013): What works, what doesn’t

 

This document ranks some of the more effective study strategies from cognitive and educational psychology, specifically with HE learners. It’s a very accessible and a go-to document. *****
Rosenshine (2012): Principles of Instruction

 

An overview of 10 key principles of instruction, informed by research on master teachers and cognitive science. Gives the reader classroom application and the research base. ****
Deans for Impact (2015): The Science of Learning

 

Based on the research of cognitive scientists, this is another go-to article for my trainees. The content is clear and accessible with great classroom application. Informed by *****
The Learning Scientists (2016):

Six Strategies for Effective Learning

 

Six of the most effective learning strategies from cognitive science are simplified and visualised. Highly accessible and available in a variety of formats for teachers and learners. *****
Hattie (2012):

Visible Learning

 

This isn’t a link to the book, but a pretty good review. There is a wealth of research informed strategies covered in the book. Despite a lot of criticism for his methods, this is a good starting point for understanding what is typically more effective in the classroom. ***
Marzano et al (2001): Classroom Instruction that Works

 

This is a link to the complete book. The work summarises a wealth of classroom based research. 9 research-based strategies are explored with a thorough coverage of the research and a range of applications for the classroom. A big read, but great book. ***
Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit

 

This toolkit for practitioners summarises classroom based research into 3 key elements – cost, research security and months impact on achievement. Some of the research methods used by the foundation have been scrutinised, but certainly worth exploring as a starting point. **
Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education (2015):

Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Learning

This offers twenty key principles for teaching and learning based on psychology. It is accessible, but a huge document. Each principle is explained with relevance to teaching. *****

 

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