How People Learn, Part 2

Hosted by: Kellie Ferguson

In Part 2 of How People Learn, we will take a closer look at some of the teaching techniques instructors can focus on to help foster deeper learning within their classroom.

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Hi this is Kellie Ferguson, Instructional Designer with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning with another episode of the Cerebro Series.  Today we’ll be talking about strategies to help students learn and retain new information- the second episode in a two-part series on How People Learn.  

Now that we have a more basic understanding of the factors that help people learn, lets discuss some tips for fostering deeper learning within your classroom. We’ll talk about ways to develop metacognition, create variety in instruction, and establish a safe and comfortable social learning environment for students.  

Remember in Part 1 of this episode, when I talked about the importance of making thinking visible in the classroom? This was called metacognition, and using metacognitive activities in your classroom can help bolster the learning process. Using metacognition essentially means that you have students reflect on their learning over the course of the class. This strategy helps guide students to think about how they are learning, the way they learn, and what information they are retaining—all helpful for developing deeper understanding of new concepts.  

Some strategies for accomplishing metacognition in your class are:  

  • Using reflective questions during lectures to guide students towards thinking about how they are learning and absorbing new information. For example, in the middle of your lecture, you might ask students to reflect on what they knew about this topic before the lecture. At the end, you might ask them to consider what they know about it now and what they still think they might need to know to really understand the topic.  
  • Another strategy is asking students to reflect on high stakes assignments. An example of this would be after an exam has been graded and passed back, ask students to write about how they studied for the exam, what was easy/difficult, and how they plan to improve for the future.  
  • Practice active learning activities that engage students directly with the material. Active learning can help build metacognition if you ask students to do an activity and reflect on what they are doing and why. For instance, after a lecture, ask students to think about the information you covered and consider a point that confused them, pair up with another student, and share their questions and try to help clear up any confusion. Not only are students actively engaging with the materials in this activity, but they are also thinking about the information they are learning as you teach.   

Another method for helping students learn and retain information in your class is to mix up your teaching. So, while you are teaching, try not to rely on just one method for delivering information. Instead, create variety in your instruction. Not only does variety engage students by keeping things new and interesting, but it allows an opportunity to develop the different processes that enhance learning. An example of combining elements in your class is to structure a lesson as an interactive lecture. You might lecture for 10 minutes, have students interact with the material in some way, and lecture again. Not only does this break up lecture materials, but it also gives students the chance to think about the materials presented in different ways. And it can even give an opportunity for some metacognitive activities or social learning! 

As you complete classroom activities, try to think about places where you can give students direct feedback in the work. Try practicing activities where students receive applicable feedback on their work from you. Direct feedback can actually help with a number of learning processes. Giving direct feedback to students helps them to reflect on the work they did and apply your suggestions to their work. Through this, they have the opportunity to practice metacognition, and they also have the chance to apply their knowledge to their work, which helps them make connections between what they already know and what they are learning. 

To bring in social learning aspects, think about designing lessons or activities in a way that encourages peer- to peer interaction. You might have a role-playing activity, in which students are asked to model specific behaviors or actions. Or, you might use groups work or ask students to work in pairs.  

Teaching online can make social learning activities a bit more challenging, but not impossible. Consider online simulations or games that might give students an opportunity to interact with one another. Ask them to create presentations for the class, or use tools like Google docs or Google slides that allow for students to contribute to a document in real time. There are so many tools available now for online learning—try to think outside of the discussion post box! 

Finally, ensure your students have the opportunity to connect with and collaborate with classmates by making sure you develop and maintain a safe and inclusive environment within your class. Whether working virtually or in-person, there are strategies you can use to build a classroom community that encourages social learning within your classroom space. Some of these strategies include: getting to know your students by name, incorporating in simple inclusive practices like stating your pronouns and making sure you pronounce names correctly, using a variety of materials that represent diverse groups, being flexible in your course policies, and giving students agency in small ways—all of these small actions build on each other and can help students feel more comfortable, and therefore, more likely to participate in social aspects of your class.  

We’ve covered a number of different strategies in this episode, and it might seem like a lot. But try to commit to incorporating one or two of these activities into your usual classroom structure. You might be surprised about the impact it has on your students, especially if it is a topic you have noticed them struggling with before. If you want more information, check out the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning website for workshops, helpful teaching resources, and more. 

Thanks for joining me, Kellie Ferguson, as I explored how people learn. Be sure to check out another insightful tidbit at The Cerebro Series.  Until next time, keep those brain juices flowing.