How Learning Works


Beginning this spring, the Office of Teaching & Learning invites you to participate in a book group focusing on best practices and pedagogy. This Friday’s Tips include bits of advice from each of the chapters comprising our featured book, How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, by Susan A. Ambrose and colleagues.

Tip #1: Explicitly share with students the organization of lectures and labs. “Because students’ knowledge organization guides their retrieval and use of information, it is especially beneficial to help students create a useful organization as they are learning. To this end, providing an outline, agenda, or visual representation … can give students a framework …” (from chapter 2, “How Does the Way Students Organize Knowledge Affect Their Learning?”, p. 61).

Tip #2: Align outcomes/objectives, assessments and instructional strategies. “When these three components of a course are aligned – when students know the goals, are given opportunities to practice and get feedback, and are able to show their level of understanding – learning is supported” (from chapter 3, “What Factors Motivate Students to Learn?”, p. 85).

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to collaborate outside of your discipline. “Also helpful when you are attempting to decompose a complex task is to ask someone outside your discipline to help you review your syllabus, lectures, assignments, and other teaching materials” (from chapter 4, “How Do Students Develop Mastery?”, p. 113).

Tip #4: When providing feedback to students, look for patterns of error in their work. “Within a class, students can often share common errors or misconceptions that only are revealed when you make a concerted effort to look for patterns. … Once you have identified common patterns, you can provide feedback to the class” (from chapter 5, “What Kinds of Practice and Feedback Enhance Learning?”, pp. 148-49).

Tip #5: Support active listening. “Sometimes tensions arise because students are not hearing what others are saying. … You might ask students to paraphrase what someone has said, followed up by a series of questions as to whether their perception was accurate or incomplete” (from chapter 6, “Why Do Student Development and Course Climate Matter for Student Learning?”, p. 186).

TIP #6: Encourage students to analyze the effectiveness of their study skills. “When students learn to reflect on the effectiveness of their own approach, they are able to identify problems and make the necessary adjustments” (from chapter 7, “How Do Students Become Self-Directed Learners?”, p. 210).

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