Educating students about learning and improving their metacognition is a strategy to improve engagement. Here is a resource that you could offer students at the beginning of a teaching sequence to improve their understanding of why it is so imperative that they are active and not passive in their learning .
Here’s why you should be active in your approach to learning
You could simply provide the image to students, or you could accompany it with a more extended description and explanation of each element below. This could be placed on the LMS.
- To help secure past learning – Having a strong memory of previous learning assists enormously in the learning of new content. This is because when processing new content, the brain searches the long-term memory for possible connections. The more it can use previous learning to process the new learning, the less pressure is placed on the new learning. Therefore, it makes sense to have a strong memory of past learning. Every time you are asked to recall information from previous learning, and you can successfully do so, the strength of the memory increases. However, the brain needs several interactions with content to not only secure it into the long-term memory, but for that memory to be able to be retrieved effortlessly. If you don’t engage in answering questions in class or completing quizzes or any activity that is related to retrieving previous learning, you miss an opportunity to strengthen memory – you can’t strengthen memory by passively looking on.
- To learn new content – Thinking and discussing and demonstrating what you know about the new information begins the process of making connections to existing knowledge. When learning something new, involving yourself in discussions about the topic and being forced to evaluate your thinking based on answers to the discussion creates a situation where the brain either recognises the content and makes connections to existing knowledge or it doesn’t. Importantly, sometimes we think we know something and it is only when we HAVE to demonstrate the knowledge that we realise it isn’t there. Being active is like self-regulating your own feedback. Passive learners sometimes don’t find out they don’t know something until it is too late (exam time).
- To use the knowledge of peers – when a peer discusses a topic or asks a question or presents something related to a topic, it forces you to evaluate whether you agree with it. This thinking about the content promotes learning. Getting involved in the discussion/exchange strengthens the evaluative process. Peers can also often provide another avenue for learning about a topic because sometimes a peer is able to provide an analogy or explanations that you can relate to more easily. If you don’t engage with peers they may not engage with you either, which means you won’t be able to test yourself against their knowledge.
- To increase attention – If you are not paying attention in a lesson, you simply can’t process the information sufficiently, which means that the content can’t begin the process of moving into the long-term memory. This has large implications for future learning connected to the topic. If you are not answering questions etc., then it is vital that you are at least still paying attention. This is even true when you are finding the content boring – you have to push through the tendency to switch off – in the end, whatever you miss now will bite you later.
- To improve the teaching – The teacher will teach better if they are teaching to someone who is clearly engaged in what is being presented. This one is as true for education as with any other profession that services the public.
- To be professional – It’s important to make professional mature decisions about how you will engage with the learning environment. At the end of the day, you are paying a significant amount of money to learn – make the most of it!
- Personal fulfillment – it is significantly more enjoyable to be involved and feel a part of a learning community. It is also personally satisfying to know that you are at a university and have the opportunity to develop your knowledge and expertise with some of the greatest minds in the world.
I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger