How Learning Works | Susan A. Ambrose

Summary of: How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
By: Susan A. Ambrose

Introduction

Embark on an enlightening exploration of the seven research-based principles that serve as an indispensable roadmap for smart teaching in Susan A. Ambrose’s book, ‘How Learning Works.’ Every student is unique in their learning process, which affects their engagement and progress. This summary sheds light on the importance of bridging learning theory with practice, addressing incomplete knowledge, connecting prior knowledge with new learning, achieving mastery, and creating a supportive learning environment. Offering insights into enhancing motivation, organizing knowledge, and facilitating transfer beyond the classroom, this summary helps decode the art of effective teaching and learning.

Principles for Effective Learning

Learning is an individualized process that requires different approaches for different learners. To achieve effective learning, students need to be given clear goals, quality feedback, a diverse array of learning strategies, and a conducive learning environment. Instructors play a crucial role in bridging research and practice by applying seven learning principles that are relevant in any culture, discipline, or experience level. Learning takes on greater relevance when it is integrated with prior knowledge and experiences, and students’ interpretations of content differ based on their backgrounds.

Connecting Prior Knowledge to New Learning

Prior knowledge is a critical aspect of learning, and students who can connect what they already know to new learning retain more information. However, incomplete knowledge or misconceptions can impede the learning process. Teachers need to prompt students to draw connections between different courses and identify and address students’ gaps in understanding. Using evidence, physical experiments, and real-life examples can help to disprove misconceptions and reinforce new learning.

Meaningful Connections: Learning and Performance

The way students organize their knowledge influences their learning and performance. Remembering and applying prior learning to new problems becomes easier when students create meaningful connections between the things they learn. Students may struggle to connect their knowledge and apply it practically, making it difficult to build on their learning. Without guidance from instructors, they may construct unsophisticated mental models of the subject matter. Instructors who highlight connections between different areas of learning and help students see the big picture, enhance students’ ability to learn and remember. The ideal approach is for instructors to put their understanding of the topic on paper, preferably on a concept map, to demonstrate how they organize knowledge. As a result, students will gain invaluable insight into how knowledge links together.

Driving Maximum Motivation

To drive maximum motivation in learners, instructors must align learning to students’ goals, instill belief in their ability to succeed, and foster a supportive learning environment. This is achieved through the combination of value, expectation, and support. Value refers to the clear connection between learners’ goals and what they are learning. Expectations mean students believe in their ability to do the work and succeed. Providing the right level of challenge, quick wins, aids, and regular feedback can boost student confidence. A supportive learning environment conveys mutual interest in everyone’s success, with teachers helping students and students helping each other. Aligning learning to students’ goals, instilling belief in their ability to succeed, and fostering a supportive learning environment combine to achieve maximum motivation.

Breaking Down the Process of Learning

Learning is not merely about acquiring discrete knowledge or skills, but about the ability to integrate and apply that knowledge in different situations. Instructors must understand that what seems simple and automatic to them may be challenging for beginners. To help learners progress, teachers must break down the learning process into component skills and necessary information blocks. This supports learners in moving from “unconscious incompetence” to “unconscious competence” – a stage where they can apply skills without much thought. For teachers, this means being mindful of what learners do not know, allowing them to practice component skills before integrating them, and ensuring that learners practice using skills in different contexts to promote transfer. Ultimately, mastery involves knowing how to use skills and knowledge in new and unfamiliar situations.

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