Thursday, February 16, 2012

Basic principles of learning

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Learning (see What is learning? for definitions) is an essential element of all animals - especially mammals. Six basic principles of learning can be identified:
    Motivation/ Readiness principle. In order to learn, a person's basic needs must be met (See Maslow's hierarchy of needs). The person must be motivated to learn something (See Reflections on education and motivation). A person is motivated to learn something when something is relevant [See Meaningful/ Relevant principle] and gets reinforced [See Reinforcement principle].
    Meaningful/ Relevant principle: New knowledge or skills needs to be relevant to the learner. New knowledge is relevant when the learner can build connections to existing knowledge (-> This is the basic idea of constructivism) and can apply the new knowledge in specific contexts. In order to understand a topic, one must understand the way ideas fit together to identify patterns, contrast/ compare new ideas to existing ideas, revise older ideas, categorize ideas, and connect ideas. These learning principles are part of Knowledge Integration (KI) framework, proposed by Prof. Marcia C. Linn.
    Reinforcement principleThe principle of effect is that learning is strengthened when accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling (positive reinforcement), and that learning is weakened when associated with an unpleasant feeling (negative reinforcement). People are more likely to continue learning when they experienced positive reinforcement.
    Repetition principleThe principle of exercise (= repetition) states that those things most often repeated are best remembered. The mind can rarely retain, evaluate, and apply new ideas or practices after a single exposure. Students do not learn complex tasks in a single session. To learn something, a person needs to apply the new idea repeatedly in different contexts. Ideally, a learner can implement deliberate (reflective) practice: 1) "Sharpen your saw"; 2) Metacognitive reflection of one's performance; 3) Measure one's performance. Learning through repetition is an ancient principle - Aristotle said "We are what we frequently do".
    Learning by Doing principleLearning from personal experience. The best way to learn something is by actually doing or experiencing it, for example through lab exercises, inquiry activities, give a demonstration, explanation generation, model building (physical or digital), drawing, teaching others, or role playing. Confucius said "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I'll remember. Involve me and I'll understand."
    Learning from observing principle (Also called vicarious learning, learning from modeling, or learning by imitation): A person can learn from another more capable person (for example a master, an expert, an older peer, or a parent). A person can learn from others by watching him/her performing, by imitating him/her, or getting feedback/critique from him/her. The learner builds a social learning network (See work of Bandura). By learning from others, the learner enters a cognitive apprenticeship (See work of Collins).
These six basic learning principles are connected to each other in multiple ways.

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