Archive for November, 2014

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The Core Processes of Learning

I have found the research of Kevin Washburn very helpful in thinking about how learning occurs; and therefore, how teaching should occur. Kevin explains four core processes of learning which I will attempt to share with you.

The first core process of learning is experience. Experience is the input of sensory data which happens continuously for every living person. Because of the volume of experiences a person has in any given time frame, it is impossible for the brain to process all experiences, and it almost immediately eliminates from memory any sensory data that does not grab the attention of the mind. In other words, the brain must do more with the sensory data received or within seconds it will eliminate the data from memory. By itself, experience is not learning, because the brain must mentally “pay attention” to what it is experiencing in order for learning to occur. Therefore, as parents and teachers, we face the challenge of raising the mental awareness of the child to attend to his school work rather than the car driving past, or the heat pump that just kicked on, or the big soccer game coming up tomorrow.

The second core process of learning is comprehension. Comprehension occurs when the brain attends to the incoming data and begins to label and sort the data. This process of “labeling and sorting” causes the brain to classify and organize, therefore, realizing patterns and similarities with other data. When the brain decides to attend to certain data, we would say that the information is in “working memory.” If data is repeatedly pulled into working memory, it can lead to a low level of learning in time. For example, someone might “learn” a phone number by repeatedly saying it as a means of keeping it in working memory as they walk across the room to get the phone. After they dial the number, it will likely be forgotten unless that same number is brought back into working memory a number of times in the near future.

The third core process of learning is elaboration where new data and past experience are brought together. When the brain takes comprehended information (i.e. labeled and sorted data) and begins to identify patterns that it recognizes, then the new data is over laid and blended with relevant information from long term memory, so that the new information is blended with what is already known. Elaboration can be described as the “conceptual blending” of the comprehended (organized) sensory data that is held in working memory and the already established and well known information from long term memory. This blending of the new and the known is what allows the brain to construct understanding. Elaboration is critical to learning.

The fourth core process of learning is application. Application could be called practice, because it allows a student to demonstrate their understanding. Application is essential to learning because it is the demonstration that the student “got it.” While application is essential, it is a common mistake to move too quickly to application. Since application is what solidifies the previous core processes and yields the highest result of long term memory, it is extremely important for the child to practice correctly. Practicing incorrectly is worse than no practice at all. Application (practice) only contributes to learning when accompanied by feedback.

It has been quite enlightening for me to “learn about learning” from Dr. Washburn and his brain based research. However, it has been more enlightening for me to come to realize that these core processes of learning run parallel to the scriptures description of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Just as Dr. Washburn’s brain based research gives us a tiered model of learning where experience can lead to comprehension which can lead to elaboration which can lead to application, in the same fashion Solomon in Proverbs describes knowledge, understanding, and wisdom as a tiered explanation of learning where applied wisdom is the proof of understanding and knowledge in the life of the Christian. Scripture sees knowledge as comprehension or “knowing the facts” in an organized fashion. Scripture describes understanding as the discerning and directing of knowledge, putting it one notch up from knowledge because it demonstrates skillful thinking which leads toward wisdom. At the pinnacle of scripture’s learning process is wisdom. Wisdom is the demonstration and proving of knowledge and understanding by how a person performs in life. Wisdom is knowledge and understanding applied.

Knowledge (comprehension) can be described as “what to think.” Understanding (elaboration) can be described as “how to think about what I know.” Wisdom (application) can be described as “how to live what I think and know.” May we engage ourselves and our children in this learning process, knowing that the Author will use it as the foundation for discernment and Godly living.

-Lyle Musser, Administrator

Posted by Kristen on Nov 24th 2014 | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Core Processes of Learning