Using Research on Learning to Guide Teaching: Huh?!

In how people learn, innovation in teaching on February 6, 2012 at 7:21 am

It seems perfectly sensible and logical. As educators, we should take advantage of the research on how people learn and use it to guide our teaching. But we don’t! Instead, we stick with the tried and true (I did it this way, I learned this way and if students don’t get it, that’s their problem!) I’ve discussed this issue in other posts, for example, Is Higher Education Ready to Change, but it’s worth repeating.

Harvard recently held a one day symposium on the issue to try to encourage faculty to incorporate cognitive research findings into their teaching. This conference kicked off Harvard’s receipt of a $40-million dollar gift. The gift forms the basis of grants to faculty for Harvard’s Initiative on Learning and Teaching.

In a Chronicle article, Harvard Seeks to Jolt University Teaching, Dan Barrett summarizes explanations of the purposes for the symposium and workshop. Barrett quotes Dr. Weiman, a Nobel prize winning physicist, who has conducted research on science education and how students learn, and who explained that faculty often teach by “habits and hunches.” This is partially because most faculty are content experts and not pedagogy experts.

Other conference speakers noted that students are changing, and that, for example, students are not as curious as before.  Dr. Mahzarin R. Banaj debunked the popular belief that teaching should be designed to fit diverse learning styles-e.g. kinesthetic or visual styles. Others noted the importance of quizzing and frequent writing.

So what dDivingoes this mean? It means that Universities should encourage faculty to develop evidence-based teaching practices. It means that faculty workloads would have to be adjusted to permit time for faculty to implement and evaluate new methods of teaching. It means that Universities should assist faculty to assess the impact of these new methods of teaching. The University of Central Florida has a center devoted to helping faculty assess the impact of their teaching.  I’m ready to try it!

  1. Evidence-based learning is a good starting place. Interaction – intellectual interaction – about arguments and interpretations can then take place. But yes, the time it takes to change 16 weeks’ worth of class sessions, multiplied by four or five classes, is inconceivable. I just read an article saying that working 11+ hours per day, rather than 7-10 hours per day, leads to depression. In recent years my teaching load was so diverse, with such high numbers of students, that I routinely put in 12-16 hours per day. I am not alone at this, of course. Too many of us unintentionally sacrifice ourselves trying to do what we know CAN be done. The circumstances of our jobs have to be adjusted in order for us to rework entire courses, though.

  2. […] since educators first began using lectures extensively. I will refer to that research in this blog-I referred to some of that research in another post. That research should help drive instruction in higher […]

  3. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all
    that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say excellent blog!

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