Theory and Research-based Principles of Learning
The following list presents the basic principles that underlie effective learning. These principles are distilled from research from a variety of disciplines.
You come into our courses with knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes gained in other courses and through daily life. As you bring this knowledge to bear in the classroom, it influences how you filter and interpret what you are learning. If your prior knowledge is robust and accurate and activated at the appropriate time, it provides a strong foundation for building new knowledge. However, when knowledge is inert, insufficient for the task, activated inappropriately, or inaccurate, it can interfere with or impede new learning.
You naturally make connections between pieces of knowledge. When those connections form knowledge structures that are accurately and meaningfully organized, you are better able to retrieve and apply your knowledge effectively and efficiently. In contrast, when knowledge is connected in inaccurate or random ways, you can fail to retrieve or apply it appropriately.
As you enter college and gain greater autonomy over what, when, and how you study and learn, motivation plays a critical role in guiding the direction, intensity, persistence, and quality of the learning behaviors in which you engage. When you find positive value in a learning goal or activity, expect to successfully achieve a desired learning outcome, and perceive support from your environment, you are likely to be strongly motivated to learn.
To develop mastery, you must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what you have learned.
You must develop not only the component skills and knowledge necessary to perform complex tasks, you must also practice combining and integrating them to develop greater fluency and automaticity. Finally, you must learn when and how to apply the skills and knowledge you learn. It is important that instructors develop conscious awareness of these elements of mastery so as to help you learn more effectively.
Learning and performance are best fostered when you engage in practice that focuses on a specific goal or criterion, targets an appropriate level of challenge, and is of sufficient quantity and frequency to meet the performance criteria. Practice must be coupled with feedback that explicitly communicates about some aspect(s) of your performance relative to specific target criteria, provides information to help you progress in meeting those criteria, and is given at a time and frequency that allows it to be useful.
Your current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
You are not only intellectual but also a social and emotional being, and you are still developing the full range of intellectual, social, and emotional skills. While instructors cannot control the developmental process, they can shape the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects of classroom climate in developmentally appropriate ways. In fact, many studies have shown that the climate instructors create has implications for you. A negative climate may impede learning and performance, but a positive climate can energize your learning.
To become a self-directed learner, you must learn to monitor and adjust your approaches to learning.
Learners may engage in a variety of metacognitive processes to monitor and control their learning—assessing the task at hand, evaluating their own strengths and weaknesses, planning their approach, applying and monitoring various strategies, and reflecting on the degree to which their current approach is working. Unfortunately, students tend not to engage in these processes naturally. When you develop the skills to engage these processes, you gain intellectual habits that not only improve your performance but also your effectiveness as a learner.
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- Bandura, A. (1989). Self-regulation of motivation and action through internal standards and goal systems. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Goal concepts in personality and social psychology (pp. 19-85). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
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