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Chapter 13
Theories of Learning





When I look back on my days as a high school student, I think about how I used to learn, or at least tried to learn.   Although I was a reasonably good student, my ideas about how I could best study for my classes were ridiculous.  (What about You?)


I remember sitting on my bed reading my history textbook at night.  My eyes went down each page, focusing briefly on every line, but my mind was thousand miles away. After completing the reading assignment, I couldn’t remember a thing I had read.  When I went to college, I continued to bumble along, spending much time in mindless reading and taking notes in class that I can now make very little sense of.


It was only after a great deal of studying experience I began to realize how important it was that I pay attention to course material with my mind as well as my eyes and that I try to understand the things I was studying.


People’s knowledge of their own learning and cognitive processes and their regulation of those processes to enhance learning and memory are known as metacognition.  Think of metacognition as your “Coach”.  It guides your learning process.  The more metacognitively sophisticated you are, the greater your school learning is likely to be.




  • Being aware of what one’s learning and memory capabilities are and of what learning tasks can realistically be accomplished ( recognizing that it is probably not possible to learn everything in a 200 page reading assignment in a single evening).


  • Knowing what learning strategies are effective (realizing that meaningful learning is more effective than rote learning for long term retention). WHO CAN   EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO?


  •  Planning an approach to a learning task that is likely to be successful (finding a quiet place to study where there will be few distractions). Where Do You Study?


  • Monitoring one’s present knowledge state (knowing when information has been successfully learned and when it has not).




People do a lot of things in their “head” to assist themselves when they want to learn and remember new material.  Obviously, some strategies are more effectively than others. (What do you Do?)  Lets look at some strategies researchers have consistently found the be valuable techniques in academic learning.




Organization…  As you begin your study of information, it would be wise to group interrelated information together as you study.  Most students simply take various ideas and list then as unrelated facts and then try to memorize every detail without considering the interrelationships inherent in a body of information.


One technique to organizing classroom material effectively is to create an outline of the major topics and ideas.


A second approach is to create a graphic representation of the information to be learned…..  perhaps a map, flowchart, or matrix.  Remember visual imagery greatly aids memory. 




Note Taking… In general, taking notes on the information presented in lectures and textbooks is positively correlated with student learning. By writing information down and looking at it on paper, students are likely to encode it both verbally and visually.  There is evidence that students remember more when they take notes EVEN if they have no opportunity to review those notes


Some students try to capture all of the main ideas of a lecture, whereas other only copy the specific words the instructor emphasizes… generally terms and their definition.

Some students include details and examples in their notes, others do not.  Regardless of the technique used, the main point is, notes, must capture a relatively complete representation of the material presented in order to be useful.  


Unfortunately, many students (especially those at junior and high school level) have difficulty understanding their own notes when they use them to review class material at a later time.


Teachers can do some very simple things to improve the quality and completeness of notes that their students take.  Writing important ideas on the chalkboard may be helpful: I personally like the overhead and as I have emphasized to you, much of the information that is highlighted or bolded is important.




Students are generally given more information than they can make note of.  As a result, they must determine which things are most important for then to learn and study. 


This can become a difficult task because the relative “importance” of different information is ultimately determined by the teacher who may have a different perspective on the material than the student.



Signals presented in a lecture that might indicate that something is important might be italicized words, highlighted words or ideas, or as previously mentioned, information that is written on the board.


Of course, underlying or highlighting information in your textbook as you read is an excellent way of making note of important material.  And finally, reading the chapter summary before reading the chapter in its entirety will generally give you an idea what the author deemed as important material. (HAVE YOU TRIED THIS?)




Good students… those who learn most effectively…. periodically check themselves to be sure they are actually absorbing what they are hearing in class or reading in a textbook.


Self questioning is an effective way of monitoring you comprehension of material studied.  To do this, a student might turn each heading or subheading into a questions to be answered and then read sections of the text with the intent of finding the answer to those questions.


People are often inaccurate and overly optimistic judges of how much they will remember about something they have just read.  Consequently, it’s not a bad idea to read and sometimes reread a chapter to capture the important material.




Students are encouraged to summarize material they need to learn.  Rather than trying to remember an entire chapter, condensing and integrating it, not only gives you less information to digest, but it also facilitate learning and retention.


There are many reasons why students don’t use effective strategies to learn classroom subject matter.  For example, students may be uninformed about effective strategies or have overly simplistic beliefs about what “knowing” something means. 


Student many times have insufficient prior knowledge about a topic to enable meaningful learning.  Perhaps the most common mistake students make is not allowing or devoting enough time to adequately study an assignment.  You can’t begin studying for a final the night before and expect to do well. 


I have witnessed many students waiting until the day before a paper is due to begin working on the paper.  No research paper can be adequately covered with a single day of research, not to mention doing revisions and corrections.


Research indicates that training in effective learning and study strategies can significantly enhance students’ classroom achievement. 










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