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Thursday, August 13, 2015

How Do You Learn? by Maryellen Weimer, PhD

Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks reports, "We are definitely way more interested in learning than we used to be. In the early years of my teaching and faculty development work, it was all about teaching: improve it and students will automatically learn more. Now the focus is on how students learn and the implications that has for how we teach." 

Photo: The Teaching Professor Blog

Lately I’ve been wondering about the learning practices of those of us who teach—what we know about ourselves as learners and how that knowledge influences the decisions we make about teaching. I’ve been trying to recall what I’ve thought about myself as a learner when I was in college. I think I self-identified as a student. I took courses and learned content. I liked some subjects and didn’t like others, which was sort of related to what I thought I could do. But the concept of learning as an entity was pretty much a big amorphous fuzz.

Teaching Professor Blog
The Teaching Professor Blog

In a workshop on using reflection to promote professional growth, I asked participants to spend some time thinking and writing about what they knew about themselves as learners. When we moved to a whole-group discussion, people talked about learning in general, not about themselves as learners. I didn’t have much luck getting the group to make it personal. Did it feel too risky? That didn’t seem right. This group had been working together for almost eight weeks. Was the question unclear? Or was it simply that these college teachers hadn’t thought much about themselves as learners and didn’t have any good answers at the ready?

Many of us have done the learning styles bit. We’ve got some broad parameters. I learn from text. If findings are explained in the text, I get it. Make me get the conclusions from a table and I struggle. I like questions that generate an array of answers without definitive right ones. I’m better with details and don’t always see how they can be assembled into a big picture. I’m betting you can come up with your own descriptions for how you like to learn, but these are all general characteristics, starting points. The wave of neuroscience research is making it clear that learners are unique, that understanding and sense-making is very much an individual process. Our thinking about how we do it needs to be more precise and specific.

Source: Faculty Focus