How People Learn



Knowledge management

Virtual classroom





Research notes & oldies

What's important

Learning is the pathway to doing. If an instructor teaches something and nothing changes, no learning took place.

Learning is learnable. You can get better at it. We set up the Meta-Learning Lab to help people learn better, faster, deeper.

"Knowledge is constructed, not transferred. It's built out of known chunks. It's always linked to the situation, thus 'situated.' Skills and knowledge do not exist outside of context. Everything is connected, in mental, physical, or social space." Peter Senge, Schools That Learn


This book is the best summary of what it's all about.

How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking, editors. "This volume synthesizes the scientific basis of learning. The scientific achievements include a fuller understanding of: (1) memory and the structure of knowledge; (2) problem solving and reasoning; (3) the early foundations of learning; (4) regulatory processes that govern learning, including metacognition; and (5) how symbolic thinking emerges from the culture and community of the learner."

Robo-teacher has left the building

eLearning was born during the dot-com frenzy. Like many start-up ideas, the first descriptions of eLearning were oversimplified, extreme, and wildly optimistic. Otherwise rational people defined eLearning as putting all learning on computers, as if it had to be all or nothing.

Imagine the savings in plane fare, instructor salaries, and keeping people on the job instead of at the class! Employees could learn anywhere they could plug into the net, whenever you wanted. Learners would save time by studying only what they needed. They would learn at an optimal pace, neither held back nor bypassed by the rest of the class. Cool.

The only problem was that this sort of eLearning rarely worked. Learning is social. Even in the classroom, lots of learning takes informally, between students. Workers learn more at the water cooler or coffee room than during classes.

Learning requires much more than exposure to content. Most people drop out of 100% computer-led instructional events. These same people learn well when computer-mediated lessons are combined with virtual classes, study groups, team exercises, mentors & help desks, off-line events, and on-line coaches.

As the hype cools down, we find that learning hasn't changed; it still requires a variety of activities. Computers can make aspects of learning more convenient but they don't eliminate the need for human intervention. The presumption that eLearning would automate every aspect of learning today seems irresponsible. That dog won't hunt.

For great overviews, see Learnativity and Marcia Conner's Learning & Training FAQ, especially How adults learn.

The old way of looking at learning:

Teach = Fill their empty heads.

From the Institute for Research on Learning

Assess = See what's inside.

Constructivism and other theories

Today we realize that learning isn't pouring content into heads. Rather, the real deal is an interaction between what's incoming and what's already there. Learning is rewiring the brain by sculpting new pigeonholes and adding connections.

Theories of Learning, from Funderstanding, explains constructivism, behaviorism, and so forth simply.

Greg Kearsley's Explorations in Learning & Instruction: The Theory Into Practice Database is an awesome resource.

Marc Prensky's Digital Game-Based Learning has a great list of theories of how people learn:

  • Learning happens when one is engaged in hard and challenging activities.

  • Learning comes from observing people we respect.

  • Learning comes from doing.

  • Learning is imitation, which is unique to man and a few animals.

  • Learning is a developmental process.

  • You can't learn unless you fail.

  • Learning is primarily a social activity.

  • You need multiple senses involved.

  • Learning takes practice, says one. No says another, that's "Drill and kill”

  • People learn in context. People learn when elements are abstracted from

  • We learn by principles, says one. By procedures, says the other.

  • They can'tt think says the one. They can't add, says the other.
  • Everyone has a different Learning style."
  • We learn X percent of what we hear, Y percent of what we hear, Z percent of what we do.
  • Situated learning, says one. Case-based reasoning, says another. Goal-based learning says a third.
    All ofthe above, says a fourth.
  • Learning should be fun, peeps the girl in the corner. Learning is hard work, answers another.
  • We learn automatically, from the company we keep, says another.
  • People learn in "chunks."
  • No, "chunking" removes context.

  • People learn just in time, only when they need to.

  • People learn aurally, visually, and kinesthetically.

Learner-Centered Psychological Principles: A Framework for School Redesign and Reform, American Psychological Association, Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) 11/97.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Cognitive learning is demonstrated by knowledge recall and the intellectual skills: comprehending information, organizing ideas, analyzing and synthesizing data, applying knowledge, choosing among alternatives in problem-solving, and evaluating ideas or actions.

Affective learning is demonstrated by behaviors indicating attitudes of awareness, interest, attention, concern, and responsibility, ability to listen and respond in interactions with others, and ability to demonstrate those attitudinal characteristics or values which are appropriate to the test situation and the field of study.

Psychomotor learning is demonstrated by physical skills; coordination, dexterity, manipulation, grace, strength, speed; actions which demonstrate the fine motor skills such as use of precision instruments or tools, or actions which evidence gross motor skills such as the use of the body in dance or athletic performance.

I think of these as training the head, the heart, and the hand.


Best Practices

Implementing The Seven Principles of Good Practice

Internet Time Group has found that people learn best when they...

  • Know what's in it for them and deem it relevant
  • Have mastered the prerequisites
  • Understand what's expected
  • Connect with other people
  • Are challenged to make choices
  • Feel safe about showing what they do and do not know
  • Control the pace, navigation, and delivery
  • Use a process that matches their preferred learning style
  • Receive information in small packets
  • Receive frequent progress reports
  • Learn things close to the time they need them
  • Receive encouragement from coaches or mentors
  • Learn from a variety of styles (say, discussion followed by a simulation)
  • Confront maybes instead of certainties
  • Teach others
  • Receive positive reinforcement for small victories
  • Screw up
  • Try, try, and try again
  • Just do it

Excerpts from the LiNE (Learning in the New Economy) Zine Manifesto, Brook Manville and Marcia Conner (6/2000).

  • Metrics of success for the new learning will be traditional financial and performance measures, not fancy, academic concepts.
  • Speed and performance demands in the New Economy will shift starting assumptions from just in case generic to just in time personalized learning—and that’s just fine.
  • eLearning will grow in importance, but will be only one part of the rich mix of choice and mass personalized approaches to learning required by knowledge workers.
  • The distinction between formal and informal learning will and should evaporate.

Learning requires engagement

Methods of engagement include:

1. Presenting information as tentative, which asks the learner to engage in assessing its veracity.

2. Offering opportunities to compare one's views to those of others. "18% of Americans feel public money should not be 'wasted' on art."

3. Feeding back information from a group of peers. "In a poll, 32% of you professed to never have seen porn on the web."

4. Providing challenges that call on one's exformation. "Exegesis means (a) pulling a tooth, (b) tracking feedback, (c) assembling unrepresentative cases to support one's argument -- what Nietsche often did, or (d) disinterring a body from the grave." Go ahead, take a guess. The answer is here.

5. Making connections to other contexts, e.g. You want to learn to fly. Let's compare flying to driving a car. Your mind begins mapping the differences and similarites.

Methods of Delivery

Internet Time's Method Matrix

Distance learning is no less effective than traditional means, the "No Significant Difference Phenomenon".

Changing the Interface of Education with Revolutionary Learning Technologies by Nishikant Sonwalkar

Learning Styles for Online Asynchronous Instruction
A “building block” approach for presenting concepts in a step-by-step procedural learning style.
Based on “events” that trigger the learning experience. Learners
begin with an event that introduces a concept and provokes questions.
Learners are first introduced to a concept or a target principle using specific
examples that pertain to a broader topic area.
Based on stimulating the discernment of trends through the presentation of simulations, graphs, charts, or other data.
An inquiry method of learning in which students learn by doing, testing the boundaries of their own knowledge.

Making Training In The Enterprise Pay Off, Datamation

Why schools suck

A narrow view of how the American public school system got so screwed up. (The Germans did it.)

Schools may be the starkest example in modern society of an entire institution modeled after the assembly line. This has dramatically increased educational capability in our time, but it has also created many of the most intractable problems with which students, teachers, and parents struggle to this day. If we want to change schools, it is unlikely to happen until we understand more deeply the core assumptions on which the industrial-age school is based.
— Peter Senge


The Neurobiology of Memory & Learning from Hughes

The answer is "C". Both Nietsche and I are guilty of using exegesis to make our cases. BACK

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." -Confucius
"If I hear and see and do and teach and practice, I understand even better." -Jay
Information is not instruction.
Yeah, so? Doing is what counts.




Real learning is not what most of us grew up thinking it was. --Charles Handy

Meta-Learning Lab

The Distance Learner's Guide



I never allowed schooling to interfere with my education. --Mark Twain


Great diagram of the brain


Marc Prensky matches content to learning activity to game styles.


"Distance education should be called 'not-so-distant education.'"

Bill Clinton, Online Learning, October 1, 2001




"One's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes









Leftovers & Oldies on this topic


© 2003 Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California