Engagement and Active Learning
As learners we can learn even when we are not being taught – “learning can-and often does-occur without teaching” “Student Engagement Techniques” (2010, p.16). On the other hand for teaching the learner needs to learn, “teaching cannot occur without learning; teaching without learning is just talking” “Student Engagement Techniques” (2010, p.16). As educators it is our responsibility to engage the student to learn- hence “active learning means that the mind is actively engaged” “Student Engagement Techniques” (2010, p.17). An active learner is engaged, and achieves deeper learning, by questioning, exploring and relating new information to old information. Neuroscientist researchers have studied the brain, and what happens when we learn. During the biological events that happen while we learn, a process of retaining information, building concepts and linking the information occurs, this is when the learner is engaged and active learning is developed. During this cognitive development, our brain gathers the information to form a schema. “A schema is a cognitive structure that consists of facts, ideas, and associations organized into meaningful system of relationships” “Student Engagement Techniques” (2010, p.18). A learner that has been exposed previously to what is being taught is more likely to understand it faster, than a learner that is new to what is being taught. Why? As, Cross, 1999, said “because connections between new information and existing schemata are sparse-there no hooks on which to hang the new information, no way to organize it”.
I once read a book “Made to Stick” By Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This book is popular, amongst teachers too. The book is a continuation of the theory explaining “what makes an idea or concept memorable or interesting”, which was originally introduced in the book “The Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell. While reading about the cognitive basis of active learning and the role of transfer in active learning, I had a schematic and an active learning moment, – I developed a further deeper understanding, about the theories developed by Chip Heath, Dan Heath and Malcolm Gladwell, as well as grasping the concept of what I had read. As well as understanding the “made to stick” theory, I now understand the biology behind the theory, and what takes place in our brain.
Learning something new can create challenges, whereas information that is parallel or the learner can correlate with, is easier for the learner to learn – similar to the “made to stick” theory. Therefore, these learners learn more rapidly, grasp the information, stay engaged, create positive feelings, and overall have a better outcomes from what they learned. In this case the schema is activated. To give an example, during 3100 the foundation course for PIDP, the information and process was new, therefore I felt anxious and I knew that I would have to try hard to understand the information. However, on the contrary one might say, I have been a learner before therefore should have prior knowledge of what I was learning and have positive transfer. Whichever way my 3100 learning experience is perceived, at the end of the course I had a deeper understanding of the content I learned. The instructor created a constructive and encouraging learning environment that left me feeling positive about the new information I had learned- “set-up conditions that promote active learning ”-“Student Engagement Techniques” (2010, p.16). Furthermore, during 3210, and now during 3250 I have prior knowledge to the information I am learning, as it is relevant information from the 3100 course, therefore making me as the learner feel engaged, “”thus new information results in meaningful learning only when it connects with what already exists in the mind of the learner, resulting in change in the networks that represents our understandings.” “Student Engagement Techniques” (2010, p.19)
In conclusion, as an educator comprehending the cognitive basis of active learning enhances my opportunity to understand my learner, distinguish my learner’s prior knowledge, and understand what my learner might undertake while learning. Setting conditions and strategies to encourage questions, techniques on how to relate new ideas to old, and encouragement to actively examine will engage the learner. “Student Engagement Techniques” (2010, p.17). Consequently this will help me as an educator support my learner.
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques. John Wiley & Sons.