What Do We Know About Students' Learning and How Do We Know It?
The instruction that we provide, the intellectual climate that we create, and the policy decisions that we make should all start with the question, "But will it improve students' learning?" Basic to any answer is the state of our knowledge about learning. A spate of recent research has resulted in comprehensive and lengthy reviews of surveys of research on student learning; the current model for coping with this information explosion is ever-tighter syntheses and distillations. These "principles" could in turn be summarized as a grand meta-principle that might say something like this: “What we know about student learning is that students who are actively engaged in learning for deeper understanding are likely to learn more than students not so engaged." However, what we already know from our own experience, as both learners and teachers, is that people have to find their own answers by working though the pathways to knowledge. Telling people what the "experts" know is not likely to result in the kind of deeper learning that we want to encourage. If we are to take learning seriously, we need to know what to look for (through research), to observe ourselves in the act of lifelong learning (self-reflection), and to be much more sensitively aware of the learning of the students that we see before us everyday. At present, I think we are prone to consider research findings as the conclusion of our investigations into learning. We might do better to think of them as the start of our investigations.