The Science of Learning Explained

The Science of Learning Explained

Table of Contents

What is the science of learning?

Delving into the science of learning provides parents and teachers with a deeper understanding of how children acquire and retain knowledge. This insight into the cognitive intricacies of learning enables parents to offer targeted support, ultimately enhancing their children’s educational journeys.

Teachers armed with a deep understanding of cognitive processes and individual needs are well-equipped to guide learning using diverse strategies. These approaches foster profound curriculum retention that extends beyond exams, shaping enduring knowledge. As parents, immersing ourselves in the science of learning empowers us to enrich our children's educational journeys with personalised and enjoyable methods. Grasping the influence of emotions on memory and tailoring techniques to diverse learning styles equips us to actively nurture our children's intellectual development and overall success.

Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI), is a teaching style that is characterised by a high-structured and systematic teaching approach that is underpinned by the science of learning. It is proven to help students master new skills and concepts through breaking down complex ideas into smaller, manageable steps which provide clear and concise explanations.

Cognitive Processes

Understanding the world of cognitive processes is essential in shaping how we learn and grow. These mental operations conducted by the brain process information, enabling us to make decisions and adapt to various situations, ultimately influencing our success. These processes are divided into two categories: basic and higher cognitive processes.

1. Basic Cognitive Processes

  • Perception: Capturing sensations and assigning meaning.
  • Attention: Selecting and focusing on stimuli.
  • Information Processing: Compiling and processing captured information.
  • Memory: Storing and retaining information for future use.

2. Higher Cognitive Processes

  • Thinking: Gathering information to make judgments and deductions, fostering learning and adaptability.
  • Executive Functions: Managing behaviour through planning, decision-making, and inhibiting impulses.
  • Learning: Paying attention to, storing, and retrieving stimuli.
  • Language: Regulating behaviour through communication, both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Creativity: Developing new strategies beyond existing knowledge.
  • Motivation: Directing behaviour and energy towards specific goals.

Cognitive processes shape cognitive skills, which can be trained and improved throughout life. Just as physical exercise strengthens muscles, cognitive exercises enhance skills like memory, concentration, and association. An example is language interpretation, which involves memory, learning, and thinking processes.

These processes significantly impact professional success, especially executive functions like planning, inhibition, monitoring, decision-making, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and problem-solving. These skills foster effective project management, impulse control, adaptability, and optimal decision-making, aligning with today's fast-paced work environments.

Cognitive flexibility aids teamwork by considering diverse perspectives, while problem-solving skills are highly valued by employers. To enhance professional growth, focusing on these cognitive processes can lead to a more successful career. Embracing lifelong learning and skill development is key. The world of cognitive processes is a gateway to achieving personal and professional excellence.

Active Learning - What is the Meaning of Active Learning?

Active learning involves engaging students in activities that require them to process information, apply concepts, and interact with the material. Research shows that active learning promotes deeper understanding and retention compared to passive learning methods like listening to lectures. Examples of active learning strategies in the classroom can include; the think-pair-share technique, jigsaw discussions, group discussions and role playing.

Retrieval Practice

In the science of learning, retrieval practice emerges as a crucial element, acting as a powerful technique to heighten memory retention and enhance the ability to recall information. Unlike passive review, retrieval practice involves actively recalling information from memory. This process reinforces neural pathways, resulting in improved accessibility to the information in the future.

Implementing retrieval practice for children can include; quizzing oneself on the material studied rather than simply rereading notes. This is similar to the Freynman or ‘platypus’ technique, which is based on evidence that shows teaching an inanimate object improves understanding and knowledge retention of a subject. This forces the brain to actively retrieve the information, strengthening memory and improving long-term retention. Retrieval practice can be done by posing questions related to the material or trying to recite key points without looking at the notes. This simple yet powerful technique transforms learning into an active and engaging process, leading to more effective learning outcomes.

Interleaved Practice and Why It’s Effective

Like a recipe that adds a dash of adaptability to your child’s learning process, interleaved practice is a clever strategy in the science of learning. Instead of focusing on one subject at a time, interleaved practice involves mixing different topics or skills during study sessions. Just like combining various ingredients makes a dish more flavorful, interleaving subjects helps your child's brain distinguish between concepts and enhances their problem-solving skills. There are multiple ways of implementing interleaving, which could look like; instead of studying only addition problems, your child could practise addition, subtraction, and multiplication problems in the same session. This technique might seem unconventional, but research shows that it's highly effective. It challenges the brain to differentiate and apply what's been learned, making your child a more flexible learner in the long run.

Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition acts like a secret formula for boosting memory and promoting lasting learning in children. Rather than cramming all at once, spaced repetition involves revisiting learned material over time. This technique allows the brain to strengthen memories and build a solid foundation of knowledge.

For instance, when your child practises their maths facts or learns new vocabulary words at regular intervals, they're helping their brain retain information more effectively. By spreading out study sessions, their memory becomes stronger, ensuring they remember and understand concepts well beyond the immediate testing period.

Parents and teachers can implement spaced repetition by revisiting topics periodically or utilising educational apps that adapt to the child's learning pace. This practical approach empowers your child's learning journey by ensuring that knowledge remains ingrained for the long haul.

Growth Mindset

Viewed as a compass for your child's educational journey, the concept of growth mindset holds a significant place in the science of learning. It functions much like a tool that reshapes challenges into opportunities. Essentially, growth mindset is a theory of learning that underscores the belief in the potential for skills to evolve through effort and education. By embracing a growth mindset, your child approaches learning with the understanding that mistakes and setbacks are essential steps towards improvement.

Growth mindset in the classroom could look like encouraging children to shift from having the perspective of “I can’t do it yet”, to instead “I can’t do it!”. This shift encourages them to persevere, take on challenges, and ultimately, enhance their learning outcomes. A growth mindset helps learning by creating a positive feedback loop, where effort leads to improvement, and improvement fuels more effort. By fostering a growth mindset in your child, you're equipping them with a powerful mindset that propels their learning journey to new heights.

What is Meant by the Transfer of Learning?

Transfer of learning, a fascinating concept in the science of learning, is like a superpower that enables your child to apply what they've learned in one context to new situations. It's the ability to take knowledge from one experience and use it to navigate unfamiliar territory.

What are the 4 types of transfer of learning?

  • Positive Transfer: This is like using a foundation to build a stronger structure. Skills or knowledge from a previous learning experience enhance a new situation. For example, learning maths helps with problem-solving in science.
  • Negative Transfer: This is like applying the wrong tool for a task. Past learning interferes with new learning. An example could be speaking a different language affecting pronunciation in a new language.
  • Near Transfer: This is like using a similar skill in a different context. For instance, if your child is good at playing the piano, they might find it easier to learn another musical instrument.
  • Far Transfer: This is like using a skill in a completely different context. Imagine how skills like critical thinking or problem-solving, learned in a maths class, can help your child analyse and solve real-world challenges.

Fostering transfer of learning helps your child become a more adaptable and resourceful learner, connecting the dots between various subjects and situations.

Feedback and Reflection in Teaching

Feedback and reflection, vital components of the science of learning, act as guiding lights in your child's educational journey. Think of them as a compass and a mirror, helping your child navigate and improve their learning experience.

Feedback involves receiving constructive input on their performance, while reflection encourages them to look back and analyse their progress. Teachers play a crucial role by providing timely feedback, allowing your child to understand their strengths and areas for growth. Encouraging your child to reflect on their learning journey fosters self-awareness and critical thinking. By discussing what they've learned, the challenges they've faced, and how they can improve, your child gains valuable insights that shape their future learning endeavours. Feedback and reflection form a powerful duo, enhancing your child's ability to adapt, grow, and thrive as a learner.

Emotions and Learning

Understanding the connection between emotions and learning is crucial for parents in supporting their children's educational journey. Emotions play a pivotal role in shaping learning experiences.

What are the 4 emotions of learning?

  • Curiosity: which sparks engagement and exploration.
  • Interest: enhancing attention and information retention.
  • Anxiety: which can either motivate or hinder learning depending on its intensity.
  • Pride: reinforcing a sense of accomplishment.

Emotions deeply influence memory formation: positive emotions tend to solidify memories, whereas negative emotions might impede learning. Therefore, creating a positive emotional environment, validating your child's feelings, and helping them manage stress can significantly impact their learning outcomes.

Multimodal Learning

Multimodal learning is a valuable concept within the science of learning for parents to understand as it enhances their children’s learning experiences. This approach recognises that individuals learn to absorb information through a combination of sensory inputs.

Types of multimodal learning include:

  • Visual learning includes the use of visual aids such as images, diagrams, charts and videos to convey information. Visual learners grasp concepts better when they can see the information in a graphical format.
  • Auditory learners thrive through listening and speaking. Lectures, discussions, podcasts and audio recordings engage their auditory senses and aid in information retention.
  • Read/Write learning focuses on reading and writing as the primary modes of learning. Taking notes, reading text and writing summaries are effective strategies for read-write learners.
  • Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands-on experiences. Activities that include movement, tough and physical engagement help them understand and remember concepts.

In embracing a multimodal teaching strategy, parents and educators empower children to grasp and retain knowledge more comprehensively, fostering a deeper understanding of the subjects they explore.

Dr Terry Harding

Dr Terry Harding

Terry Harding has a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma in Education from the University of Sydney; a Diploma in Christian Doctrine and Practice from Emmaus Bible School; a Masters degree in Education and a PhD in Education from the Queensland University of Technology and a Diploma in Counselling from Australian Institute of Family Counselling. Terry has taught in Christian Schools for 15 years. He has been a principal of 5 Christian schools and has managed both Christian homeschooling and distance education.

Available for comment on: online school, home education, explicit direct instruction.