The Science of Learning – Why I do It

The Science of Learning is the application of the research into how people learn to teach. There are years and years, even more than a century in some cases, of solid empirical research into learning to draw on. The established theory, not hypothetical theory, but empirically established theory, covers a number of areas, including, but not limited to, cognitive science, cognitive development, motivation, cognitive neuroscience, and good classroom research.

  • Cognitive Science:
  • Attention
  •  Top-down perception
  • Selection
  • Visual
  • Auditory
  •  Non-attentive processing
  • Memory
  • Sensory and Primary
  • Encoding
  • Retrieval
  • Storage
  • Memory organization
  • Motor control and learning
  • Selecting movements
  • Sequencing Movements
  • Integration of movement into perceptual awareness
  • Visual imagery
  • Decision making and reason
  • Reason
  • Inductive
  • Deductive – including hypothetico-deductive
  • Rational thinking
  • Logic
  •  Problem-solving
  • Transference of learning
  • Language processing
  • Cognitive Development
  • Categorization
  • Memory
  • Language
  • Brain development
  • Symbolic representation
  • Concrete thinking
  • Egocentrism
  • Perspective taking
  • Conservation
  • Theory of mind
  • Sociocultural learning
  • Emergence of abstract thought and reasoning
  • Critical thinking
  • Complex inductive reasoning
  • Hypothetico-deductive reasoning
  • Metacognition and memory
  • Strategic problem solving
  • Postformal thinking
  • Relativism
  • Dialectical thought
  • Reflective judgment
  • Motivation
  • Self-determination
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Extrinsic motivation
  • Mindset
  • MUSIC model
  • Empowerment
  • Usefulness
  • Success
  • Interest
  • Caring
  • Audience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cognitive neuroscience has generally taken theories that have been observed behaviourally and identified where and how these behaviors take place in the brain.
  • Classroom studies
  • This is a difficult area because of the lack of scientific training in the field of education. Rigorous research methods and scientific evaluation are not a normal part of a degree in education which usually focuses on teaching methods. However, there have been some very well conducted studies as well as meta-analyses of numerous studies on single topic areas that draw inescapable conclusions.

A long list of well-founded scientific research that is not a part of formal teacher training. If you talk to any formally trained teacher, they will tell you that the amount of time spent studying how people learn is minimal (if any) and the focus of a teaching degree is a subject area and how to teach.

Somehow, this approach feels backward. Shouldn’t teaching teachers how people learn should precede teaching teachers how teachers teach? For decades, Halpern and others have argued that teacher training should begin with at least one year (if not two) of studies about how people learn before embarking on formal teacher training. This is the model for medicine (biology), and engineering and computer science (mathematics). Why not for education? Isn’t learning an important component of teaching?

This is the basic premise of The Science of Learning. Taking what we know, scientifically, about how people learn and apply it to formal learning environments. Unfortunately, too many in the educational world label this approach an opinion about teaching. This may be an opinion about education, but it is an opinion that is based on logic and rational thinking. The well-used refrain from teachers (and educators) of, “…that’s your opinion, I have my own opinion, and everyone else has their own opinions, and everyone’s opinion is just as valid” lacks a rational and logical basis. As I have said before, by that kind of logic and reason, because I drink water, my opinion about the composition of the liquid called water is just as valid as an expert in chemistry. If I were to say this in learned circles I would be thought of as a fool. However, when a teacher says the same thing about The Science of Learning, they are thought of as rational and normal.

Somehow, this isn’t right.

Although I have considerable depth in the area of The Science of Learning, I have, more recently, studied the lack of teaching higher order thinking skills in higher education (the need for which arises from The Science of Learning) and the impact that is having on our graduates and our broader society. We are turning out millions (the vast majority) of graduates who have developed no higher order thinking skills or have developed them within a narrow context with no concurrent transference that would allow the skills to be applied more broadly. The result is that about 10% of our graduates can use their higher order thinking skills for the wider benefit of society.

The shocking part is that because of the structure of our full educational model, this carries on through virtually all of postsecondary education. Very few members of our society ever learn to apply their higher order thinking skills beyond the narrow context in which they are learned.

The tradition of a liberal arts education is to learn higher order thinking skills across a number of subjects, enabling transference (Bachelors degree), master a particular subject area (Masters degree), and then make an original contribution to a field of study (Ph.D.). Since the liberal arts education has collapsed from the onslaught of the two forces of the massification of higher education and the explosion of information, higher order thinking skill training has all but disappeared with, literally, a catastrophic impact on society. The memorization of gigabytes of content by millions of students is the triumphant model.

This is why I write on and on about higher order thinking skills in higher education. The Science of Education tells us how we teach them, but the science is being ignored by all who could do anything about it.

I will use my selection as one of The Voices of Education by LinkedIn to continue to work towards a world where we train people to think again and to correct the fallacious thinking that has arisen because the science is being ignored.

We can change the world, we just have to begin.

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