10 Principles We’ve Learned About Learning - Digital Promise

10 Principles We’ve Learned About Learning

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September 22, 2014 | By

Research in the learning sciences has produced massive amounts of information on the brain, intelligence, and the learning process. Because the education system and our learning processes are complex, research provides no silver bullet to improve our schools.

There are, however, key principles that emerge when reviewing the literature on relevancy, engagement, and contemporary theory about intelligence and learning. While not comprehensive, the following list can can help educators take a research-backed approach to supporting learners:

  1. Learning is developmental. Based on the physical development of the brain, there’s a logical progression to how people develop skills and learning habits.
  2. Individuals learn differently. People learn at their own pace, with different methods and strategies for acquiring and processing information.
  3. People learn what is personally meaningful to them. Motivation increases when people can see how new knowledge and skills can be applied to their personal life and work.
  4. New knowledge is built on current knowledge. Accurate prior knowledge provides a strong foundation for learning; however, inaccurate or insufficient prior knowledge can make learning more difficult. People learn by connecting newly acquired information with prior knowledge. If those connections are well organized, knowledge can be retrieved and applied more readily.
  5. Learning occurs through social interaction. When learning offers opportunities for active response and exchange among peers and experts, it is more effective than passive listening, reading, or watching media in isolation.
  6. People learn when they accept challenging but achievable goals. Within this “zone of proximal development,” learners are often able to exceed the limitations of their prior knowledge and skill levels through collaborative work with more knowledgeable peers and experts.
  7. Learners master basic and component skills through practice. The skills necessary to complete a more complex tasks are mastered when practice is routine and applied in various contexts. Timely and accurate feedback is essential to this process.
  8. Acquiring and applying habits of mind improves learning performance. Habits of mind can be taught. These habits include routine practices such as assessing the nature and difficulty of a task, evaluating personal strengths and weaknesses in light of the task, planning how to solve related problems, applying varied problem solving strategies, and self-monitoring success with those strategies.
  9. Learning is stronger and more permanent in a positive emotional climate. When students feel safe, connected to their peers and leaders, and in touch with goals, they are in supportive emotional climates.
  10. Learning is influenced by the total environment. Air quality, light, room color, furnishings – all of these things affect learners. They are also affected by their interactions with others, physiological needs, the nature of their personal goals, and the organizational goals set by schools and employers. Each learning environment – classrooms, schools, neighborhoods, cities, nations – influences learners’ perspectives about their lives and their hopes.

For educators, these principles may seem obvious. But it’s important to be aware of the ample research behind each, and use these research-based principles to support what teachers already do best: support learners.

More than anything, we hope these principles spur a needed discussion on how to put learning research to work for students. What do you think?

Are these the critical aspects of learning?


How would you modify this list?


How do you use these principles to create opportunities for students to learn?



Tell us in the comments below!

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