Learning is…

The three learning taxonomies were a helpful tool to classify processes of thinking and learning in a systematic way.  I liked aspects of each of them, which made it difficult for me to pick sides during last week’s class session. Although I do agree with grad602‘s statement about their similarity, it did see some subtle differences between them.

In my opinion, Bloom’s taxonomy was the most intuitive way of thinking about encouraging and facilitating students to climb to the highest level of thought. The six cognitive process dimensions (Remember-Understand-Apply-Analyze-Evaluate-Create) describe the learning cycle by emphasizing that each dimension must be mastered before moving on to the next level. I find this to be a useful basis to create curricula, syllabi, and evaluation methods.  

Despite the rather confusing visual representation, I identified several valuable aspects of the SOLO taxonomy. I liked the fact that it focused on different levels of “informational connectivity” to depict the evolution of learning. Moving from identifying unconnected pieces of information to creating multiple (new) connections between them is particularly important in today’s world, in which information is abundant, freely available, and at times contradictory.

I like Shulman’s Table of Learning, because it emphasizes that learning begins with motivation and engagement. It sets the stage for fruitful learning. The following levels (i.e., knowledge and understanding, performance and action, reflection and critique, and judgement and design) are comparable to Bloom’s cognitive process dimensions. Finally, Shulman’s last step of “commitment and identity” stands out to me. It highlights that successful learning shapes students’ identities, the way they view the world.

Shortcuts don’t work…

WARNING: This week’s post will be quick and dirty.

Daniel T. Willingham’s article on strategies how to improve a student’s memory really resonated with me. First of all, I have to admit that I am a sucker for ANYTHING that helps me memorize, retain, and recall relevant information (I am scatterbrained by nature… runs in the family).

I had a good laugh when I reached the section about “memory myths”, especially myths #3:

“Herbal supplements or pharmaceuticals that can enhance memory or attenuate the cognitive decline associated with aging” (p. 21).

I felt a hint of embarrassment, as it reminded me of a purchase I had made a couple of months ago:


So, wait…. You are saying, Ginkgo will NOT help me study for my comprehensive exam? Bummer.

Okay, now I am alerted. How about these Lumocity-loving people (actors?) who use the software to – for example – “remember people’s names”?

But joke aside. Although I am clearly exaggerating (i.e., the Ginkgo bottle is still unopened), for me it simply highlights the fact that learning and maximizing the ability of memory cannot be achieved by taking shortcuts. Recognizing how students learn, how information is retained, processed and converted into tacit knowledge and how this can shape teaching is a complex endeavor – a pop of Ginkgo can hardly do much…

Making the case: From subjectivity to objectivity

How do we, as instructors, know how successful our teaching is? How can we determine the efficacy of technology use in the classroom? How do we measure student learning outcomes?

The majority of our last in-class discussion on Making the case I evolved around these very important questions… While some colleagues expressed the need for more qualitative, constructivist approaches (e.g., learning is  subjective), others emphasized the importance of quantitative positivist approaches (e.g., focus on generalizability of results) to capture the status quo of student learning. Burrell & Morgan’s four paradigms of social theory immediately came to mind (see figure below).


Research in the functionalist and interpretive paradigm tend to explain, understand, and observe the status quo of phenomena (e.g., student learning), while research in the radical humanist and radical structuralist emphasize action, change, and societal conflict. I believe that the class discussion was in part about whether the status quo of student learning can be explained with subjectivist or objectivist approaches. From an epistemological point of view, objectivist view the world as a concrete, external structure, which can be identified and measured, whereas subjectivists aim to understand  the world from a subjective point of view. I don’t know which paradigm is most appropriate to study student learning… But in the end, it comes down to what the research goal is. What do we want to accomplish? If we seek to develop testable hypotheses and aim toward generalizable results, a positivist approach may be more appropriate… Just some things to consider.