Learning to Remember: What’s Your School Doing?

The basics of learning & memory

Learning & memory are fundamentally related concepts.

When we successfully learn something, we modify existing – or acquire new information.

Arguably, we haven`t really ‘learned’ until we can make use of the information we’ve acquired. Therefore, true learning allows us to readily access, recall and apply information.

In many ways, memory is the product of learning. This is because the quality of encoding at the time of learning influences the quality of our memory thereafter. When our memory decays, so too does our learning.

The Cone of Learning

Dr Edgar Dale’s ‘Cone of Learning’ (also known as the ‘Cone of Experience’), is a useful model highlighting the relationships between different learning activity and memory.

Most noteworthy, the Cone of Learning suggests that learning and recall is heightened with increasing ‘active’ investment from the learner.

Subsequent adaptations of Dr Edgar Dale’s work, includes a ‘percentage’ breakdown of the amount of information that is likely to be recalled for each major method of learning (see below graphic).

However, the recall figures in such modules are ‘debatable’, given there is little research supporting the specific percentage breakdowns. In fact, Dr Edgar Dale’s original work did not include such figures. In short, there are too many uncontrollable variables and experimental flaws to allow for a clear understanding of the relative effectiveness of each approach.

However, there’s still an abundance of research supporting ‘active’, to be a more effective form of learning compared with ‘passive’ approaches.

Thus, the Cone of Learning still provides useful ideas of and applications of active learning, despite less certainty on the relative ‘retention’ levels of each prescribed learning method.

Traditional teaching & learning

In many ways, the Cone of Learning highlights the ineffectiveness inherent in the traditional model of education; where the teacher disseminates information to a  ‘passive’ student audience. Specifically, it is at odds with the idea that students learn best through doing and being actively involved.

It’s clearly difficult to actively engage and reach students with this traditional teaching delivery model. Students possessing a learning style outside ‘read- write’, often ‘fall down the cracks’. Educators have seen this occur time and time again.

Another consequence of the traditional teaching & learning model is the belief it imparts; students see their role to be a ‘passive’ learner; i.e. to sit back and listen. After all, that’s how most of their lessons have been typically delivered. Thus most students erroneously believe taking an active role in learning to be going ‘above and beyond’ rather than as a non-negotiable requirement of effective learning.

However, in many ways, the traditional teaching paradigm is a product of the ‘real-world’ constraints including; high student to teacher ratios, limited time/resources, prescribed syllabuses, and classroom design, to name a few.

Breaking the traditional mould!

Despite the constraints within the traditional model, there are many schools and teachers opting to create more innovative ‘student-centered’ learning environments…

In fact, most 21st Century Educators see it as their duty to seek more innovative ways to navigate these boundaries. Technology (including social media) has opened up a whole new world of possibilities in this regard.

We’d love to hear what initiatives your school and teachers are undertaking to make your school more ‘student centric’. Perhaps you are using models such as ‘the Cone of Learning’ to guide your philosophies? May be your are harnessing the popularity and interest in social media?

In the meantime, stay tuned for ‘Part 2’ next week!

I hope that you enjoyed reading this article. Please be sure to ‘like’ or ‘share’ if you found it of value!

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