2. Understanding How Students Learn

As you design course content and plan for instruction, you need to think carefully about how students actually learn. To begin with, you need to consider basic factors such as attention span. Students can only process so much new information at once. If you provide too much information in one class session without giving students the opportunity to fully make sense of it, they will quickly forget the majority of the content. Similarly, students will struggle to maintain complete focus for an entire class period, so you need to break each class in some way, with interaction/activities or a change of approach.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy is an educational model that helps us see that thinking and learning can occur at different levels of complexity. The Taxonomy is arranged as a pyramid with six levels of thinking/learning. The idea is that the bottom levels are more fundamental, whereas the higher levels are more complex. Furthermore, the higher levels depend upon the lower levels (hence the pyramid structure). That is, a student cannot be expected to complete higher level tasks with your course content until they have a firm handle on the lower levels (remembering and understanding).

Bloom's Taxonomy helps you as you design student learning goals/outcomes, as well as assignments, activities, and quizzes/exams. You first need to decide on goals for student learning. What should they be able to do once they reach the end of the course? What higher-level tasks should they be able to perform at the end of the semester? You can use Bloom's Taxonomy to see how well your assignment types and exam questions match your intended student outcomes.

For more information on the history of Bloom's Taxonomy and its uses for instructors, see: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/


Laws of Learning (from Anthony Fredericks, Ed.D.)

The following is an excerpt from the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher from: https://www.teachervision.com/how-students-learn. In this passage, Anthony Fredericks, Ed.D. discusses "laws" that impact how well students are able to learn new content. Think about these points as you design course content and assignments.

"From my conversations with teachers around the country about how students learn and how teachers teach, I have discovered that certain laws govern the learning process. These laws apply to any student at any grade and in any subject area. Just as important, they are also supportive of what we know about brain growth and development. Although they have direct application for you as a classroom teacher, you'll note they are also applicable to adults who want to learn, too.

  • Law of readiness. Students learn more easily when they have a desire to learn. Conversely, students learn with difficulty if they're not interested in the topic.
  • Law of effect. Learning will always be much more effective when a feeling of satisfaction, pleasantness, or reward is part of the process.
  • Law of relaxation. Students learn best and remember longest when they are relaxed. Reducing stress increases learning and retention.
  • Law of association. Learning makes sense (comprehension) when the mind compares a new idea with something already known.
  • Law of involvement. Students learn best when they take an active part in what is to be learned.
  • Law of exercise. The more often an act is repeated or information reviewed, the more quickly and more permanently it will become a habit or an easily remembered piece of information.
  • Law of relevance. Effective learning is relevant to the student's life.
  • Law of intensity. A vivid, exciting, enthusiastic, enjoyable learning experience is more likely to be remembered than a boring, unpleasant one.
  • Law of challenge. Students learn best when they're challenged with novelty, a variety of materials, and a range of instructional strategies.
  • Law of feedback. Effective learning takes place when students receive immediate and specific feedback on their performance.
  • Law of recency. Practicing a skill or new concept just before using it will ensure a more effective performance.
  • Law of expectations. Learners' reaction to instruction is shaped by their expectations related to the material (How successful will I be?).
  • Law of emotions. The emotional state (and involvement) of students will shape how well and how much they learn.
  • Law of differences. Students learn in different ways. One size does not fit all!"


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