Science of learning
An understanding of how we learn should be at centre of all teaching and learning.
The science of learning draws on research from cognitive psychology, neuroscience and education to understand the processes through which we learn. While there is a focus on the cognitive processes involved in learning, the science of learning also recognises that cognition is affected by affective, emotional and contextual factors.
As learning is a central pursuit of the education system, it is essential that educators understand the principles behind how we learn and the practical application and enactment of these in the classroom.
While the scientific understanding of how we learn is continuously evolving, there is a strong evidence-base behind the key processes and principles of cognition. There also is a growing research-base focused on the impact of particular pedagogies and practices in the school context (as opposed to just a laboratory context).
- Activating existing knowledge: A new concept is always learned in association with already existing knowledge. The amount of existing knowledge and level to which it is interconnected influence the quality of learning (more interconnected knowledge leads to easier and faster learning).
- Cognitive load: all new information must be processed in the working memory before it is processed to long-term memory. Our working memory has limited capacity, and therefore if tasks are too cognitively demanding or if confronted with too much new information at once, learning is impeded.
- Practice is essential to learning: students need to practice retrieving information from their long-term memories to use in a new situation or context. Practicing a particular skill or retrieving particular information is more effective when spread over time, rather than repeated sequentially over a short time period.
- Effective feedback is essential to the learning process.
- Affective learning skills are essential: students’ sense of self-belief about their ability to learn, that is, believing that intelligence is mutable, greatly impacts their achievement. Furthermore, so-called non-cognitive skills such as self-regulation and motivation are essential to successful learning.
- Do I fully understand how cognition works?
- How do I ensure I active students’ prior knowledge when introducing a new topic or skill?
- Do I build practice into my lesson sequence?
- Is the feedback I provide my students specific, task-focused and focused on improvement?
- How do I feed into my students’ self-beliefs about their intelligence?
"Your work is valuable and education is lucky to have your insight, knowledge and courage to try something new. I have found the research that you put up on the Education Hub page very interesting. It is generating a lot of discussion and thought in our staffroom."