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LEARNING TO LEARN

Karl R. Wirth
Macalester College

Dexter Perkins
University of North Dakota

"Here we use the Socratic method: I call on you; I ask you a question; you answer it. Why
don't I just give you a lecture? Because through my questions you learn to teach yourselves.
By this method of questioning-answering, questioning-answering, we seek to develop in you
the ability to analyze that vast complex of facts that constitutes the relationships of members
within a given society.
Professor Kingsfield (in the Paper Chase)

INTRODUCTION
Manystudentswouldlikelyciteadesiretolearnastheprimaryreasonforcommittingfour
yearstoacollegeeducation.Butwhatdowereallymeanwhenweusethewordlearn?Itis
somethingwealldofromthemomentofbirth,somostofuslikelytakethisverycomplex
processforgranted. Howmanyofyouhavespenttimetryingtounderstandthemeaningof
learning,orhowitoccurs?Althoughmanyofushaveageneralsenseofwhatitmeanstolearn,
there are often many assumptions involved. Teachers often assume that, because they are
teaching,studentsmustbelearning.Studentsassumethat,becausetheyhavereadtheirtext
andmemorizedfacts,theyhavelearnedsomething. Whatshouldweexpecttolearnfroma
collegeeducation? Whataretherolesofstudentsandteachersinthelearningprocess? Are
certain kinds of learning and thinking more valuable than others? What does sophisticated
thinkinglooklikeandwhatarethedevelopmentalstagesforgettingthere?Whatkindsofskills
andknowledgedoemployersdesireintheirperspectiveemployees? Howdogradesreflecta
students thinking and learning? What role does higher education play in modern society?
Thesearebutafewquestionstoconsiderwhilereflectingonthepurposeofacollegeeducation.
The past few decades have seen considerable advances in understanding the brain and
learning.Thesenewfindingshavesignificantimplicationsforwhatinstructorsteachandhow
studentslearn,andIhavechangedthewayIapproachteaching.AsIbegantorevisemycourses
toincludenewinstructionalmethods,Irealizedtheneedtoaddsomereadingsandclassroom
discussionstohelpstudentsunderstandtheirvitalroleinthelearningprocess.Iinitiallysought
tofindanexistingdocumentthatwouldprovideaconcisesummaryaboutlearning.Afternot
findingasuitableoverview,Idecidedtowriteonemyself.So,thepurposeofthisdocumentisto
provideabriefoverviewoflearning,howpeoplelearn,andtheimportanceoflearningasa
lifelongobjective. Thissummaryisdistilledfromanumberofbooks,papers,andwebpages
related tolearning, thinking, andeducational practices. Althoughintended forstudents, the
Availablefrom:http://www.macalester.edu/geology/wirth/CourseMaterials.html

(version21April2016)

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BudBlake

documentmightalsobeusefultoinstructorsastheyconsiderwhattheyteachandhowtoteach
it. Feedback,bothpositiveandnegative,iswelcomedtohelpguidefuturerevisionsofthis
workinprogress.AreviewbyJ.Seriegreatlyimprovedthisdocument.However,anyerrors
arethesoleresponsibilityoftheauthors.

THECURRENTSITUATION
TheAmericaneducationsystemisconsideredamongthebestintheworld.Morethan50%
ofournationshighschoolgraduatescontinueontocollegeandeachyearouruniversitiesand
collegesenrollthousandsofstudentsfromothercountries.Despitethesestatistics,severalrecent
studies haveshownthatmanycollege seniorshaveneithergoodgeneralknowledgenorthe
necessaryskillsforreasoningintodayssociety(Fink2003).Asanexample,Saunders(1980)
comparedU.S.studentswhohadcompletedayearlongeconomicscoursewiththosewhohad
nevertakenacourseineconomics.Attheendofthecourse,thetestscoresofthosestudents
whohadcompletedtheeconomicscoursewereonly20%betterthanthosewhohadnottakenthe
course,andthisdifferencedroppedtolessthan10%sevenyearsaftercompletionofthecourse.
EquallyshockingaretheresultsofastudyofcriticalthinkingandcollegefacultyinCalifornia.
Althoughmostofthefaculty(75%)claimedtovaluecriticalthinkingandtopromoteitinthe
classroom,lessthan19%wereabletoprovideaclearexplanationofcriticalthinking,andless
than10%wereabletoidentifycriteriaforevaluatingthequalityofstudentsthinking(Pauletal.
1997). The results of these studies, and many others, strongly suggest that our current
instructionalpracticesarenotworkingandthatmanystudentsarenotlearning,orretainingwhat
theydolearn(Fink2003).

NEEDFORNEWKINDSOFLEARNING
Therehavebeencallsfornewkindsoflearningfrommanydifferentpartsofsociety(Fink
2003). College teachers have expressed frustration about attendance in class, uncompleted

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reading assignments, and student focus on Unlessyoutrytodosomethingbeyondwhat


grades rather than learning. Student surveys youhavealreadymastered,youwillnever
indicate that courses are not interesting, that grow.
students fail to recognize the value of what
RalphWaldoEmerson
theyarelearning, andthatmanyfacultyrely
too heavily on lectures for transmitting information. Recognizing the need for greater
accountability byourpublicschoolssystems,asignificant numberofstatelegislatures have
beguntolinkappropriations toperformance. Anumberofnationalorganizations havealso
calledforchange.AnAssociationofAmericanCollegesreportin1985recommendedthatthe
central theme of any curriculum should be to teach students how to learn. Surveys of
professional organizations indicate that besides specific competencies and skills, todays
employersseekworkerswithpeopleskills(e.g.,teamwork,communication,leadership)along
withadesireandabilityforlifelonglearning.The1996NationalScienceFoundationreporton
Shaping the Future (of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education) urges
faculty to promote new kinds of learning that include developing skills in communication,
teamwork,andlifelonglearning.Gardiner(1994)compiledalistofcriticalcompetenciesfor
citizensandworkersfromleadersinbusiness,industryandgovernment:
personalresponsibility,
abilitytoactinprincipled,ethicalfashion,
skillinoralandwrittencommunication,
interpersonalandteamskills,
skillsincriticalthinkingandproblemsolving,
respectforpeopledifferentfromoneself,
abilitytochange,
abilityanddesireforlifelonglearning.
Fink(2003)summarizedDolenceandNorris1995reportonTransformingHigherEducationin
theinformationageasfollows:Societyandindividuallearnersnowhavedifferentneeds,both
intermsofwhatpeopleneedtolearnandhowtheycanandshouldlearn.
Forallthereasonsgivenabove,andformanyothers,thefocusofeducationisshiftingfrom
teachingtolearningtoday. Facultyrolesarechangingfromlecturingtobeingprimarily
designersoflearningmethodsandenvironments(BarrandTagg1995,citedinFink2003).
Brookfield(1985)arguesthattheroleofteachersistofacilitatetheacquisitionofknowledge,
nottransmitit,andtheNRC(2000)recommendsthatthegoalofeducationshiftfroman
emphasisoncomprehensivecoverageofsubjectmattertohelpingstudentsdeveloptheirown
intellectualtoolsandlearningstrategies.
Ifyouaskmostcollegeteacherswhatisthegreatestgiftthattheycouldgivetheirstudents,
youwillrarelyhearananswerthatincludesmentionofspecificdisciplinerelatedcontent.Most
willanswerthedesireandskillsforlifelonglearning.Itsnotthatitisntimportanttolearn
some facts while in college; these will likely be necessary for future employment. More

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importantthoughishavingtheskilltolearnon Themanwhofeelssmuginanorderlyworld
onesownafterleavingcollege. Thissingle,
hasneverlookeddownavolcano
mostimportant skill willempoweryoufora
Anonymous
lifetime and should be one of your highest
prioritiesforattendingcollege.
The2002panelreportbytheAssociationofAmericanCollegesandUniversities(Greater
Expectations:ANewVisionforLearningasaNationGoestoCollege)definesstudentlearning
needsforthe21stcentury.Topreparestudentsforemergingchallengesintheworkplace,ina
diversedemocracy,andinaninterconnectedworldcollegesanduniversitiesshouldplacenew
emphasisoneducatingstudentstobeintentionallearnerswhoarepurposefulandselfdirected,
empowered through intellectual and practical skills, informed by knowledge and ways of
knowing,andresponsibleforpersonalactionsandcivicvalues(AACU,2002). Becomingan
intentionallearnermeansdevelopingselfawarenessaboutthereasonforstudy,thelearning
processitself,andhoweducationisused.Intentionallearnersareintegrativethinkerswhosee
connectionsinseeminglydisparateinformationtoinformtheirdecisions.Selfdirectedlearners
arehighlymotivated,independent,andstrivetowardselfdirectionandautonomy.Theytake
theinitiativetodiagnosetheirlearningneeds,formulatelearninggoals,identifyresourcesfor
learning,selectanimplementlearningstrategies,andevaluatelearningoutcomes(SavinBaden
andMajor2004).Specifically,theAACUreportrecommendsthatstudentsshouldlearnto:
effectivelycommunicateorally,visually,inwriting,andinasecondlanguage
understandandemployquantitativeandqualitativeanalysistosolveproblems
interpretandevaluateinformationfromavarietyofsources
understandandworkwithincomplexsystemsandwithdiversegroups
demonstrateintellectualagilityandtheabilitytomanagechange
transforminformationintoknowledgeandknowledgeintojudgmentandaction
Inadditiontointellectualskills,thereportalsoemphasizeslearningthatincludeswaysof
investigatinghumansocietyandthenaturalworld,including:
thehumanimagination,expression,andtheproductsofmanycultures
theinterrelationswithinandamongglobalandcrossculturalcommunities
meansofmodelingthenatural,social,andtechnicalworlds
thevaluesandhistoriesunderlyingU.S.democracy
Furthermore,toensurecitizenrywithsocialresponsibility,educationshouldfoster:
intellectualhonesty
responsibilityforsocietysmoralhealthandforsocialjustice
activeparticipationasacitizenofadiversedemocracy
discernmentoftheethicalconsequencesofdecisionsandactions
deepunderstandingofonesselfandrespectforthecomplexidentitiesofothers,their
histories,andtheircultures.

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Finally,thereportsuggeststhatfortheintentionallearnerintellectualstudyconnectsto
personallife,formaleducationtowork,andknowledgetosocialresponsibility.Thesesortsof
connectionsdontdevelopontheirownwhenonebecomesanadult. Theytakedeliberate
effort and continual reflection. When are you going to begin developing these kinds of
connections?Howwillyoudevelopthem?Whynotstartnow?
ThemostrecentcallforeducationreformcomesfromtheCommissionontheFutureof
HigherEducation.This19memberpanel,withrepresentativesfromlargeresearchuniversities,
liberalartscolleges,communitycolleges,tradeschoolsandcorporateexecutives,wasappointed
bytheSecretaryofEducationtoexamineconcernsaboutaccessandaccountabilityinhigher
education.Thepanelrecentlyreleasedablisteringreport(SECFHE,2006)onthestateofhigher
educationintheU.S.Amongotherthings,thepanelstated:wearedisturbedbyevidencethat
thequalityofstudentlearningatU.S.collegesanduniversitiesisinadequateand,insomecases,
decliningandemployersreportrepeatedlythatmanynewgraduatestheyhirearenotprepared
to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problemsolving skills needed in todays
workplaces. In addition, they note business and government leaders have repeatedly and
urgently called for workers at all stages of life to continually upgrade their academic and
practicalskills.Themessageisclear;learningisnotsomethingyoujustdoforafewyearsin
college.Learningisalifelongcommitment!

DIFFERENTKINDSOFTHINKINGAND
Itisagreatnuisancethatknowledgecanbe
LEARNING:THECOGNITIVEDOMAIN
Sincethe1950s,researchersin cognitive acquiredonlybyhardwork
theory and education have used Blooms
SomersetMaugham
(1956)taxonomiesoflearning.Inanumberof
landmark papers, Bloom and colleagues
identifiedthreelearningdomains:
thecognitivedomain
theaffectivedomain
thepsychomotordomain
Thecognitivedomaininvolvesthinkingofallsorts;itisdiscussedinsomedetailbelow.The
affectivedomainincludesfeelings,emotions,attitudes,values,andmotivations.Levelswithin
theaffectivedomainrangefrominitialawarenesstoacommitmenttovaluesthatguidebehavior
anddecisions.Thepsychomotordomainoflearningincludesphysicalmovement,coordination,
motor,andsensoryskills.Thepsychomotordomainisnotconsideredfurtherinthisdocument.
Theothertwodomains,however,areinvolvedinjustabouteverythingthatfollows.(Readon!).
Although widely used by instructors for course design and student assessment, Blooms

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taxonomydoesnotincludesomeofthenewkindsoflearningdeemedimportanttoday(e.g.,
learninghowtolearn,communicationandleadershipskills,adaptability).
Withoutquestion,themostwidelyusedofBloomstaxonomiesisforthecognitivedomain.
Bloomdividedthisdomainintosixlevelsofunderstandinginahierarchicalsequence(Table1).
According to Bloom, the acquisition of facts (knowledge) marks only the beginning of
understanding.Thefactsmustbeunderstood(comprehension)beforetheycanbeappliedtonew
situations(application).Knowledgemustbeorganizedandpatternsrecognized(analysis)before
itcanbeusedtocreatenewideas(synthesis).Finally,todiscriminateamongcompetingmodels
orevidence,thelearnerneedstobeabletoassess(evaluation)therelativemeritsandvalidityof
information or ideas. Clearly, to attain the level of understanding that makes evaluation
possible requires significant time and effort by the learner. Such a sophisticated level of
understandingisnoteasilyattainedbysimplyreadingabookorhearingalecture.Itrequires
Table1. Bloomslevelsofthinking,fromlowest(1)tohighest(6),inthecognitivedomain.
Thistaxonomy,recentlyrevisedbyAndersonetal.(2001),remainsessentially
unchanged,exceptthatsynthesis(creating)isconsideredthehighestlevelof
thinking.
1
2
3
4
5
6

LevelofThinking
Knowledge
(facts)
Comprehension
(understandmeanings)
Application
(applytonewsituations)
Analysis
(seeorganizationandpatterns)
Synthesis
(generalize,createnewideas)
Evaluation
(assessvalueofevidence)

ExampleQuestionThatTargetsUnderstanding
Definethetermmineral
Explainwhysomecrystalfacesgrowfasterthanothers
Forthe1994floodinMinnesota,calculatethefrequency
offloodingofthismagnitude.
Comparethedistributionofearthquakesalongmidocean
ridgeswiththoseofsubductionzones
UsethesequenceofrocksexposedalongtheMississippi
Rivertoconstructamodelofthechangesinsealevel
duringtheearlyPaleozoic.
Evaluatetheargumentsforandagainsttheevidenceof
fossillifeinmeteoritesfromMars

active thought and reflection. Think about something in your own life in which you have
attainedahighlevelofunderstanding. Perhapsitisahobby,asport,oraskill.Trytowrite
downexamplesofthedifferentlevelsofunderstandingrelatedtothisproficiencythatyouhave.
Howmanyhoursdidyouspenddedicatedtothattaskbeforeyouattainedyourcurrentlevelof
proficiency?Areyoupreparedtodedicatethatmuchefforttoleaningincollege?
Bloom and colleagues identified six levels within the cognitive domain. Subsequently,
Anderson et al. (2001) pointed out that there are four categories of knowledge within the
cognitivedomain,eachrequiringdifferentkindsoflearning.Theyidentifiedfourprincipalkinds
ofknowledge:factual,conceptual,procedural,andmetacognitive. Factualknowledgeconsists
of isolated and discrete content elements. Conceptual knowledge is more complex and
organized,includingsuchthingsasknowledgeofclassifications,categories,principles,theories,

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models,andstructures.Knowledgeofhowtodosomethingsuchastechniques,methodsand
skillsistermedproceduralknowledge.Metacognitiveknowledgeisknowledgeaboutcognition
andawarenessofandknowledgeaboutonesowncognition. Andersonetal.(2001)revised
Bloomstaxonomyandshowedthateachoftheirfourkindsofknowledgecanbemappedacross
allsixofBloomslevelsofunderstanding.So,thereare24distinctcombinationsofknowledge
typeandlevelofunderstanding.InLearningtoThink:DisciplinaryPerspectives,Donaldpoints
outthatdifferentdisciplinesinvolvedifferentandspecifickindsofthinkingandinformation.
This,accordingtoDonaldexplainswhystudentsgravitatetowardonefieldoranother.Itisalso
thesinglemostimportantpredictorforsuccessinagivenfield.Wow,ourconceptsoflearning
andunderstandinghavealreadygottenalotmorecomplicated,andwerenotfinishedyet!

DIFFERENTKINDSOFTHINKINGANDLEARNING:THEAFFECTIVEDOMAIN
Krathwohletal.(1964)wrotetheseminalbookdescribingwhatBloomandotherscalledthe
affectivedomain. Theaffectivedomainincludesallthingsthatlimitorenhancelearningin
additiontobasicthinking.Theaffectivedomaindescribeslearningobjectivesthatemphasizea
feeling,anemotion,oradegreeofacceptanceorrejection.Affectivecharacteristicsvaryfrom
simplypayingattention,tocomplexqualitiesofcharacterandconscience.
Theaffectivedomaininvolvesmanythingsthatatfirstseemunconnected,butKrathwohlet
al.(1964)arrangedtheminahierarchicalorder(Figure1)relatedtoanindividual'slevelof

Figure1.

TheaffectivedomainasdescribedbyKrathwohletal.(1964).Krathwohletal.
organizedthedomainintoahierarchybaseduponanindividualscommitmentto
livingandvaluing.

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commitmenttolearning.TheScienceEducationResourceCenterwebsitehasagoodsummary
of the affective domain (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/intro.html). The
keyideaisthis:receivinginformationisthefirstandeasiestpartoflearning.Moreimportantis
thatyourespondtowhatyoulearn,youvalueitandorganizeitandeventuallyuseittoguide
yourlives.Akeypartofthisprocessisdevelopinggoodattitudestowardlearningandwhatyou
learn. Motivation and values are important. In fact, a recent study by Dweck and others
demonstratesthatstudentviewsoflearningoftenhavesignificanteffectsonstudentgrades.
Theaffectivedomain,accordingtocurrenteducationalliterature,isessentialforlearning.
Yet,itreceiveslittleattentionfrommostteachers.Instead,mostteachersfocusonthecognitive
aspectsoftheteachingandlearningandmostoftheclassroomtimeisdesignedforcognitive
outcomes.Additionally,manyaffectivecharacteristicsarenebulousorhardtoquantifymaking
itdifficultforbothteachersandstudentstospecifygoalsandtoevaluatewhetherthosegoalsare
met.Perhapsthemostimportantconsiderationoftheaffectivedomainoccurswhenyouassess
yourownlearning.Youcanconsiderandevaluatemotives,attitudes,andotherthingsinaway
thatyourteachercannot.Youcanidentifyanddealwithaffectiveroadblockstolearningthat
canneitherberecognizednorsolvedwhenusingapurelycognitiveapproach.

FINK'STAXONOMYOFSIGNIFICANTLEARNING
In response to a need for a broader consideration of learning, Fink (2003) proposed a
taxonomyofsignificantlearning(Table2)thatinvolves aspectsofboththecognitiveand
affectivedomains.Thistaxonomywasdevelopedtoemphasizethatlearninginvolveschangesin
the learner. Significant learning is characterized by some kind of lasting change that is
importantintermsofthelearnerslife(Fink2003). EachofFinksratherbroadcategories
includesseveralrelatedspecifickindsoflearning.However,unlikeinBloomstaxonomy,the
categoriesintheFink(2003)taxonomyareinteractiveratherthanhierarchical.
According to the Fink scheme, foundational knowledge includes knowledge and
understandingofbasicfacts,ideas,andperspectives. Foundationalknowledgealsoincludes
understandingtheconceptualstructureoffactualknowledgewithinasubject,essentialwhen
applyingfactualknowledgeinotherareas.Foundationalknowledgeisalsoessentialforother
kindsoflearningtobeuseful,hencethetermfoundational.
Inadditiontobeingabletorecallinformationandideas,onealsoneedstobeabletoapply
onesknowledgeorskillstonewsituations;thisisapplication.Thiscategoryincludeslearning
toengageinnewkindsofthinking(critical,creative,practical)aswellascertainskills(e.g.,
communication,playinganinstrument).Criticalthinking,discussedinmoredetailbelow,refers
totheprocessofanalyzingandevaluating,whereascreativethinkingistheprocessofcreating
new ideas, designs, products, or forms of expression (Sternberg 1989; cited in Fink 2003).
Practical learning occurs when foundational knowledge is applied to answering questions,
solvingproblems,ormakingdecisions.IntheFinktaxonomy,therealintellectualpowercomes
fromintegration,whichinvolvesbeingabletomakeconnectionsbetweenspecificideas,people,

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Table2.Finks(2003)CategoriesofSignificantLearning.
LearningCategories
FoundationalKnowledge
Application

SpecificKindsof
Learning
Understandingand
RememberingInformation&
Ideas
Skills;Critical,Creative,and
PracticalThinking;Managing
Projects

Integration

ConnectingIdeas,People,and
RealmsofLife

HumanDimension

LearningaboutOneselfand
Others

Caring

DevelopingNewFeelings,
Interests,andValues

LearningHowtoLearn

BecomingaBetterStudent;
InquiringAboutaSubject;Self
DirectingLearners

ExamplesfromGeology
Understandimportantgeologicfeatures,
processes,andconceptssufficientlywell
toexplainandpredictotherobservations
Beabletofindandanalyzeinformationto
solveproblemsfromageologic
perspective;learntomanagecomplex
tasks;developnewskillssuchas
language,communication,music,dance,
sports
Identifytheinteractionsbetweengeology
andotherrealmsofknowledgesuchas
biology,politics,oreconomics
Beabletoidentifywaysinwhichones
ownlifeaffectsandisaffectedby
interactionswiththeEarth;learninghow
tobealeaderorateammember;
developingcharacterandethics;
becomingculturallysensitiveandserving
others;takingresponsibilityforonesown
life
BeinterestedintheEarthandcontinue
learningaboutit;wantingtobeagood
students;beingexcitedaboutasubjector
activity
Beabletointerpretthesignificanceof
newgeologicinformation;learninghow
toinquireandconstructknowledge;
developingalearningagendaandplan

ordifferentrealmsoflife. Thisincludesinterdisciplinarylearning,learningcommunities,and
connectingacademicworkwithotherareasoflife.Thehumandimensionoflearningdescribes
thetypeoflearningthatoccurswhenastudentlearnssomethingimportantabouthimselfor
herself, or what they might desire to become. This new selfknowledge enables them to
recognizethepersonalandsocialimplicationsoftheirknowledgeandtofunctionandinteract
moreeffectivelywithothers. (OthersarebroadlydefinedbyFinktoincludeinteractingwith
technology). These kinds oflearning (human dimension) are broadly similar to emotional
intelligence,whichGoleman(1998;citedinFink2003),describesasincludingselfawareness,
selfregulation, motivation, empathy, andsocial skills. Bothauthors notetheimportance of
understandingselfandothers,andofthereciprocityoflearningaboutoneselfandothers.
Whenalearningexperiencehasaprofoundeffectonastudent,itcanresultinagreatersense
ofcaringforthesubject,forthemselves,others,orlearningingeneral.Greatercaringcanlead
tonewinterests,energyforlearning,orachangeinvalues.Finally,itisalsoimportanttolearn
howtolearn.Thisincludeslearninghowtodiagnoseonesownneedforlearningandhowtobe

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a selflearner. This type of learning enables students to continue learning with greater
effectivenessandisaparticularlyimportantskillwiththerecentexplosionofknowledgeand
technology.
Atbest,mosttraditionalcollegecoursesandcurriculaaredesignedtoprovidestudentswith
foundationalknowledgeandtheskillsforselfdirectedlearningaftergraduation.Howdoesone
developtheotheraspectsofsignificantlearning?Thatsaquestionforboththelearnerandthe
instructor. For an overview of the skill and value objectives considered by teachers when
designingcourses,viewtheTeachingGoalsInventory(http://www.uiowa.edu/~centeach/tgi/).
Thebottomlineisthis:thereisalotmoretolearningthanmemorizing,recalling,oreven
understanding,facts. Statedanotherway:thereismuchmoretolearningthancontent. The
successfulstudentmustalsoknowhowtoapplyknowledgetonewareas;integrateknowledge
withotheraspectsoflife;understandtheimplicationsofknowledgeforselfandothers;care
aboutlearning;andlearnhowtolearn. Noneoftheselearningcategories canbeneglected
becauselearninginoneareaenhanceslearninginotherareas(Fink2003).
Thelecturerpumpslaboriouslyintosieves.
Thewatermaybewholesome,butitruns
through.Amindmustworktogrow.

WHATREALLYISLEARNING?
Ifwearetoknowifsignificantlearningis
C.W.Eliot
taking place in the classroom, we must be
capableofrecognizingitwhenitoccurs.Ifyou
lookupthedefinitionoflearninadictionary,youwilllikelyfindthefollowing:1)toacquire
knowledgeofasubjectorskillthrougheducationorexperience,2)togaininformationabout
somebodyorsomething,or3)tomemorizesomething,forexample,facts,apoem,apieceof
music,oradance.Thisdefinitionisnotparticularlyinsightful,althoughitremindsusthatthe
wordcanbeusedtodescribetheacquisitionofbothknowledgeandskill,andthatacquisition
canbebyavarietyofmeans,includingeducation,experience,ormemorization.Still,weareleft
withoutaclearunderstandingofwhatitmeanstoacquireknowledgeorskill. Otherthings
thatweacquireareobtainedbyphysicalmeans.Howdoesthisrelatetolearning?Arethere
differentdegreesofacquisitionand,ifso,dotheyrepresentequaltypesoflearning? For
example,ismemorizingafactthesameaslearningtointerpretacomplextext? Howabout
learningtoplayamusicalinstrument?TheOxfordEnglishDictionaryalsoprovidesadefinition
thatacknowledgestheimportanceofteachingasavehicleforlearning,awelcomereminderfor
teachers. Taking a different view, Atkinson et al. (1993) describe learning as a relatively
permanent change in behavior that results from practice." Others (e.g., Simon 1996) have
pointedoutthatthepurposeoflearninghasrecentlyshiftedfrombeingabletorecallinformation
(surfacelearning)tobeingabletofindanduseit(deeplearning).
Untilseveraldecadesago,mostcollegeteachersthoughtthatteachingsimplyinvolvedfilling
astudentsheadwithinformation.Knowledgewastransmittedfromanauthority(theteacher)
toalearner(thestudent),generallybylecture.Thisthinkingandpracticearefirmlyentrenched

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11

inmostclassroomsdespitethefactthattheineffectivenessoflecturebasedteachinghasbeen
knownforquitesometime.
Moderncognitivepsychologytellsusthatlearningisaconstructive,notreceptive,process
(Glaser1991).Thistheoryoflearning(constructivism)holdsthatunderstandingcomesthrough
experiences and interaction with the environment, and that the learner uses a foundation of
previous knowledgetoconstructnew understanding. Consequently, thelearnerhas primary
responsibilityforconstructingknowledgeandunderstanding,nottheteacher.Inaconstructivist
classroom, the teacher is no longer the
authoritybutinsteadisaguideorfacilitator Alectureisaprocessbywhichthenotesof
theprofessorbecomethenotesofthe
whoassistsstudentsinlearning.
According to Kolb (1984), the learning studentswithoutpassingthroughtheminds
ofeither
cycle begins when the learner interacts with
R.K.Rathbun
the environment (concrete experience).
Sensoryinformationfromthisexperienceisintegratedandcomparedwithexistingknowledge
(reflective observation). New models, ideas, and plans for action are created from this
information(abstract hypotheses),andfinallynewactionistaken(activetesting). TheKolb
cycleisconsistentwiththeearlierworkofPiagetandotherswhopointedoutthatlearninghas
bothaconcrete(active)andanabstract(intellectual)dimension(Figure2).
Withinthebrain,knowledgeisorganizedandstructuredinnetworksofrelatedconcepts.
Accordingly,newknowledgemustconnectto,orbuilduponaframeworkofexistingknowledge
(Zull2002).Putsimply,learninginvolvesbuildingmentalmodels(schema)consistingofnew
andexistinginformation.Thericherthelinksbetweennewandexistinginformation,thedeeper

Figure2.

Kolbslearningcycle.

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theknowledgeandthemorereadilyitcanberetrievedandappliedinnewsituations.Building
richlinksinvolvesaniterativeprocessofbuilding,testing,andrefiningschemathatorganizes
knowledgeintoconceptualframeworks.Ifexistingknowledgeservesasafoundationfornew
learning, then it is also essential that existing misconceptions, preconceptions, and naive
conceptionsareacknowledgedandcorrectedduringthelearningprocess.
There are both surface and deep
approaches to learning (SavinBaden and WhenPabloCasalsreachedninetyfive,a
Major2004). Surfaceapproachestolearning youngreporteraskedhimaquestion:"Mr.
concentrateonmemorization(Bloomslowest Casals,youareninetyfiveandthegreatest
level: knowledge). In surface learning, the cellistwhoeverlived.Whydoyoustill
practicesixhoursaday?"Casalsanswered,
learners goal is often to complete required
"BecauseIthinkImmakingprogress."
learning tasks by memorizing information
neededforassessments. Surfacelearnersmostlyfocusonfactswithoutintegration,theyare
generallyunreflective,andtheyseelearningtasksasexternalimpositions.Incontrast,students
withdeepapproachestolearninghaveanintentiontounderstand. Theygenerallyengagein
vigorous interaction with content, relate new ideas to old ones, relate concepts to everyday
experience,relateevidencetoconclusions,andexaminethelogicofarguments. Whiledoing
this,theyconstructtheirownknowledge.Thinkforaminuteaboutyourownapproachesto
learning.Wheredotheyfallbetweenthesurfaceanddeepapproachesdescribedabove?
Towhatextentislearningenhancedorlimitedbygenetics?Althoughnaturaltalentisoften
consideredtoplayasignificantroleinbecominganexpert,eventalentedindividualsmust
engageinsignificantpracticetoreachthemasterlevel(Ericssonetal.1994).Thesinglebest
measureofmasteryinasubjectistimespentintellectuallyengagedwiththatparticularsubject.
Forexample,chessmastersspendroughly50,000to100,000hoursstudyingchesstoreachthe
expertlevelofplayingchess(SimonandChase1973). Stop. Rereadthatsentenceagain.
Thinkaboutit.Thosearesomebignumbers.Howbigarethey(youshouldbetryingtoreacha
deeperlevelofunderstandinghere)?Letsdoaquickcalculation.Anaverageof75,000hours
means spending 8hours perday,365days peryear, formorethan 25years to become an
accomplished chess player! Thats how long it takes to develop the necessary skills for
recognizingpatternsofchesspieces,understandingtheirimplicationsforfutureoutcomes,and
makingthebestmoves.Nowonderspendingjustafewhoursonahomeworkproblem,oreven
asemesterreadingatextbookoftenfailstoprovidethelevelofunderstandingthatweoften
desire.Clearly,significantlearningrequiresmajorinvestmentsoftime.Unfortunately,timeon
taskalonedoesnotguaranteethatsignificantlearningwilloccur.
LEARNINGANDTHEBRAIN:NEWEVIDENCEFROMRESEARCH
Many people, both young and old, enjoy solving problems. Its something we do for
relaxation.Aschildren,manyofusassembledjigsawpuzzlesorsolvedwordgames.Eventhe
namewordgamesimplies thatitissomethingfuntodo. Manyadultsenjoyworkingon

Wirth&PerkinsLearningtoLearn

13

crossword puzzles or other intellectual


challenges (the current popularity of Sudoku Iusedtothinkthatthehumanbrainwasthe
attests to this). These observations suggest mostfascinatingpartofthebodyandthenI
realized,whatistellingmethat?
thatthehumanbrainhasafundamentalneedto
solve problems and understand its
ErnePhilips
surroundings.Essentially,wearebornwitha
desire to learn, but the need for learning is not limited to children or young adults in the
classroom.Itisalifelongoccupation.Althoughwearebynaturelifelonglearners,whatdowe
reallyknowabouttheprocessoflearninginthehumanbrain?Quiteabit,itturnsout.Inthe
pastfewdecadestherehavebeensignificantadvancesinourunderstandingofthebrainand
scienceoflearning. ArecentbookpublishedbytheNationalResearchCouncil(NRC2000)
providesafascinatingoverviewofnewresearchonthebrain,mind,andprocessesoflearning.
Studies of developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, learning science, and
neurosciencehaveconvergedonanewunderstandingoftheworkingsofthebrain(NRC2000).
Key findings include: 1) learning changes the physical structure of the brain, 2) learning
organizesandreorganizesthebrain,and3)differentpartsofthebrainmaybereadytolearnat
different stages of development. During development, the wiring of the brain is created
through the formation ofsynapses,which are the junctions between neurons through which
informationpasses.Atbirth,thehumanbraincontainsalltheneuronsitwilleverhave,buthasa
relativelysmallportionofthelargenumberofsynapsesthatitwilleventuallydevelop. New
synapticconnectionsareaddedtothebrainafterbirthintwoways:1)byoverproductionand
loss,and2)bysynapseaddition. Overproductionofsynapsesoccursindifferentpartsofthe
brainatdifferentratesduringchildhoodandearlyadolescence.Thosesynapsesthatareunused
throughexperienceareprunedduringlaterstages. Inotherwords,brainsinitiallyhavean
extensiveneuralnetwork,butonlythosepartsthatareusedareretained.Thesecondmethodof
synapseadditionoccursthroughoutlifeandisdrivenbyexperience.Inotherwords,activity
inthenervoussystemassociatedwithlearningexperiencessomehowresultsintheformationof
newsynapsesandrewiringofthebrain.Theincreasingcomplexityofneuralnetworksthat
resultsfromsensoryexperiencesisthephysicalexplanationforthetheoryofconstructivism
(describedabove).
Experimentsonlaboratoryanimalshavedemonstratedthatexperienceincreasestheoverall
qualityoffunctioningofthebrain. Experienceequatestolearning. Additionally,research
suggeststhatthegrossstructureofthebrainisalteredbothbyexposuretoopportunitiesfor
learning,andperhapsmoreimportantlyforthisdiscussion,bylearninginasocialcontext.Think
aboutit,thatsprettycoolstuff!Thebrainisadynamicorgan.Learninginindividualandsocial
contextsactuallyresultsinnewpatternsoforganization(thephysicalstructure)andimproved
functioningofthebrain.Itsalsoworthnotingthatwetestourlearningthroughaction.Thatis,
ourbraingetsfeedbackaboutourthinkingwhenweputideasintoaction(e.g.,speak,write,
draw,playaninstrumentorsport),hencetheimportanceofnotneglectingthepsychomotor

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Wirth&PerkinsLearningtoLearn

domain(describedbrieflyabove).Thisisalsoagoodreasonforlearningingroups;learningin
socialenvironmentsresultsinricherneuralnetworks.
Studiesofmemoryandbrainprocessesindicatethatpeoplesmemoriesofimagesarefar
superiorcomparedwithpeoplesmemoriesofwords(NRC2000). Thishasimplicationsfor
how we teach and learn. Research also indicates that the brain does not simply record
informationasitarrives.Instead,thebrainreorganizesinformationformoreefficientrecalland
lateruse. Infact,thestructureofinformationinthebrainisoneoftheprimaryfeaturesthat
distinguishesnovicesfromexperts.
Our new knowledge of brain development and learning comes, unfortunately, with new
responsibilities tocontinually exercise and nurturethe brain. Educational institutions and
instructors are faced with the awesome responsibility of designing curricula and learning
experiences that will stimulate and guide rewiring in student brains. Students bear
responsibility for nurturing and engaging their brains during this important developmental
process.EdNuhferatIdahoStateUniversityhasrecentlycompiledonlineoverviewsofbrain
foods(Nuhfer2005;2006)thatpromotebrainfunctioningandsynapsedevelopment.Werenot
talkinggimmickshere;thisisaboutsoundnutritionandtheimportanceofwater,protein,amino
acids,glucose,vitamins(especiallyB6),andmineralsforlearning.Itturnsoutthatbreakfast
reallyisoneofthemostimportantmeals,especiallyfordevelopingbrains.
Caringforourbrainsalsoinvolvesmakingotherlifestylechoices.Recentresearch(e.g.,see
reviewbyButler2006)shedslightontheneurobiologicaleffectsofalcohol,andtheevidenceis
sobering(nopunintended). Anumberofstudieshaveshownthatevenmoderateamountsof
alcoholcausesignificantcellulardamage(evenaftertheeffectsofalcoholhavewornoff)tothe
forebrainandhippocampusregionsofthebrain. Thesestructuresarecrucialforlearningthat
involves integrative processing (e.g., decisionmaking, questioning, discrimination, and goal
setting) and memory. Studies of laboratory animals at Duke University have observed
drasticallysuppressedactivityofchemicalreceptorsinthehippocampusduetoalcohol.These
effectsarenotjustshortterm;therearealsosignificantlongtermcognitiveconsequencesfrom
excessivedrinkingofalcoholduringadolescence.A1998studyattheUniversityofCalifornia,
SanDiegoexaminedtestresultsofverbalandnonverbalmemoryinteenagers.Theyobserved
significantcognitivedeficitsinteensthatreportedevenoccasionalexcessdrinking. Another
study found that alcoholabusing teens exhibit different brain activity compared with non
drinkingpeerswhenaccomplishingspatialtasks. Theforebrainsofthealcoholabusingteens
weretoodamagedtocompletethesetasks,sosomeforebraintaskshadtobeconductedinless
damagedregionsofthebackcortex.Theseexamplesillustratethedelicatenatureofthebrain.
Apparently,muchofwhatwedohasaphysicalaffectonthedevelopmentofourbrains.
INTELLECTUALDEVELOPMENT
Onegoalofcollegeeducationshouldbeto
develop more sophisticated approaches to

Educationiswhatsurviveswhenwhathas
beenlearnedhasbeenforgotten
B.F.Skinner

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15

thinking. To a new college student, the previous sentence may not have much meaning.
Withoutknowingwhatsophisticatedthinkingis,itishardtoknowhowtolearntodoit!
Whenyoutraveltoaforeignland,itoftenhelpstohaveamapand,yes,italsohelpstoask
others for directions along the way. A number of researchers have studied the intellectual
developmentofcollegestudents,andtheirworkprovidesinsightintothevariousdispositionsto
thinkingthatastudentmightexperienceanddevelop.Itisalsoworthnotingthatotheraspectsof
studentdevelopmenthavealsobeeninvestigated,includingmoral,attitudinal,emotional,and
identity(e.g.,ChickeringandReisser1993).Thesearealsoveryimportant,butherewefocuson
intellectualdevelopment.
Intellectual growth has been characterized as the progression from ignorant certainty to
intelligentconfusion(Kroll1992).Howeverpithythatcharacterizationmightsound,itcomes
closetosummingupthebeginningandendingstagesofintellectualgrowth.Letslookatsome
ofthedetailsofthedevelopmentalprocess. Aclassicstudyofintellectualdevelopmentwas
conductedbyWilliamPerry(1970).Heconcludedthatintellectualgrowthoccursinaseriesof
stages,startingwithblindacceptanceofauthority(whichPerrytermeddualism),andmovingon
togradualacceptanceofuncertainty(multiplicity)andtheideathatallopinionshavemerit.The
nextstagerecognizesthatperspectivesareimportantandthatcompetingideasmaybeevaluated
inthatlight(relativism).Relativistslearnhowtothinkandactinspecificcontexts.Thefinal
stage involves making choices and decisions (commitments) (Figure 3). It also involves
transferencebeingabletoapplysomethingyoulearninonecontexttoadifferentsituation.
MoststudentsenterandleavecollegeatPerryssecondstage,multiplicity.

Figure3.

ThefourstagesofintellectualgrowthdescribedbyPerry(1970).

ManysubsequentstudiessupportedPerryswork,butthereweresomeconcernsaboutthe
universalapplicabilityofhismodelbecausehissamplepopulationconsistedlargelyofHarvard
males. Notably, Belenky et al. (1986) extended Perrys study to include the intellectual
developmentofwomenandtheyidentifiedfivedifferentperspectivesofknowing. Although
manyaspectsoftheBelenkyetal.modelhavecounterpartsinPerrysscheme,therearedistinct
variationsthattheauthorsattributetogenderdifferencesinintellectualdevelopment.Theseare
largelyincorporatedintheworkofBaxterMagoldaandaredescribedbelow.
BasedontheworkofJohnDeweyandWilliamPerry,KingandKitchener(1994)developed
amodelforthedevelopmentofreflectivejudgmentamongcollegestudentsthatdescribeshow
students approach illdefined problems, evaluate evidence, and justify claims about
questionableissues.Inthismodel,studentsinitiallyarenotawarethatknowledgeisuncertain

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Wirth&PerkinsLearningtoLearn

(prereflectivethinking)andgraduallycometorealizethatsomeknowledgeisuncertain(quasi
reflectivethinking),butcommonlydonotreasonorarguefromevidence. Inthefinalstages
(reflective thinking),studentsrecognizethatknowledgeisconstructedandthatknowledgeis
inextricablylinkedtothecontextinwhichitisdeveloped.
BaxterMagoldas(1992)modelofintellectualdevelopment(Table3)isbasedonstudiesof
equalnumbersofmaleandfemalestudentsandbuildsonthemodelsofPerry,Belenkyetal.,
andKingandKitchener.Sheidentifiedfourwaysinwhichcollegestudentsmakemeaning,
Table3.

BaxterMagoldas(1992)levelsofintellectualdevelopment.Patternsthatare
characterizedbymalesandfemalesateachlevelarealsoshown.Asanexample,
viewsofsciencethatcharacterizestudentsateachdevelopmentallevelarefrom
PalmerandMarra(2004).ModifiedfromFelderandBrent(2004).
Level

AbsoluteKnowing
Allknowledgethat
mattersiscertain,and
positionsareeither
rightorwrong.
Authoritieshavethe
truth.
TransitionalKnowing
Someknowledgeis
certainandsomeisnot.
Authoritiescommunicate
certainties,butstudents
bearresponsibilityfor
makingownjudgments
whereuncertain.

PatternCharacterized
byMoreMen

PatternCharacterized
byMoreWomen

Mastery
Studentsraisequestions
tomakesuretheir
informationiscorrectand
challengedeviationsfrom
theirviewofthetruth.

Receiving
Studentsrecord
informationpassively,
withoutquestioningor
challenging.

Impersonal
Makejudgmentsusing
prescribedlogical
procedures.Perceptions
thatfullcreditisdeserved
forfollowingtheright
procedure,regardlessof
clarityorqualityofthe
supportingevidence.
Individual
Relyonobjectivelogic,
criticalthinking,and
adversarialchallengingof
theirownandothers
positionstoestablish
truthandmakemoral
judgments.

Interpersonal
Basejudgmentson
intuitionandpersonal
sense;distrustlogic,
analysis,andabstract
theories.

IndependentKnowing
Interindividual
Mostknowledgeis
Relymoreoncaringand
uncertain.Studentsare
empathyasbasefor
responsibleforown
effortstounderstandand
learninganduse;
judge.Listeningto
conclusionsviewedas
othersasimportantas
equallygoodwith
expressingonesown
emphasisonuseof
ideas.
objectiveprocedures.
ContextualKnowing
Allknowledgeisuncertain,contextual,andindividuallyconstructed.Studentstake
responsibilityformakingjudgments,acknowledgetheneedtodosointhefaceof
uncertaintyandambiguity.Useallpossiblesourcesofevidenceandremainopen
tochangeinwhenfacedwithnewevidence.Noapparentgenderdifferencesatthis
level.

ViewofScience
Scienceisacollection
ofknownfacts.
Studentsatthisstage
exhibitdifficulty
understandingtheuseof
evidenceforbasisof
judgmentsordecisions.

Scienceisasetof
theoriesandfactswith
exceptions.

Scienceiscollectionof
approximatemodelsof
reality;modelsareonly
asgoodasavailable
data.Willingnessto
challengewhatis
known,question
underlyingassumptions,
andtolerateambiguity.

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17

notingthattherearesomegenderdifferences,butthatpatternsofdevelopmentarenotexclusive
toeithergender. Inthefirststage(absoluteknowing),studentsconsiderknowledgeabsolute,
thatauthoritieshavealltheanswers,andthatthestudentsroleistoreceiveknowledge.When
authoritiesexpressuncertainty,itisinterpretedtoreflectthattheindividualdoesnotknowthe
right answer. At this stage, women tend to manifest a more private approach to learning
(receivingpattern)whereasmalestendtoseekverbalinteractiontoacquireknowledge(mastery
pattern).Studentsinthestageoftransitionalknowingacceptthatsomeknowledgeisuncertain,
butstillholdthatmostknowledgeiscertain.Theyalsotendtorelylessonauthorityandbegin
toacceptthattheroleofthelearneristoconstructknowledge,notjustreceiveit.Duringthis
stage, women tend to view learning as gathering ideas from others (interpersonal pattern)
whereasmentendtoviewinteractionswithothersmoreasavehicleforclarifyingindividual
understanding(impersonalpattern).
The view that knowledge is uncertain becomes a basic assumption during the stage of
independent knowing. Independent knowers recognize their own views as legitimate.
Authoritiesareseenasonlyonesourceofknowledgeanddifferencesamongauthoritiesareseen
asreflectingdifferentviewsoftheworld. Duringthisstage,interindividualpatternknowers
(mainlywomen)developcloserconnectionswithpeersandauthoritiestoclarifytheirownideas,
whereas individualpattern knowers (mainly men) move toward separation from peers and
authorities while acknowledging the legitimacy of others views. In the fourth stage of
development(contextualknowing),genderdifferencesappeartoconvergeandbothwomenand
menvaluetheimportanceofthinkingforoneself.Individualsatthisstageholdthatknowledge
comesfromintegratingtheideasofotherswithonesown.Contextualknowersjudgeevidence
and recognize that some claims are better supported by evidence than others are. Baxter
Magolda (1992) observed only a few college students that exhibited patterns of contextual
knowers. Otherstudiesoftheintellectualdevelopmentofcollegestudents(seee.g.,Pavelich
and Moore, 1996; Wise et al. 2004) confirm these observations. Our understanding of
intellectualdevelopmentnotonlyhasimplicationsforhowthingsaretaught,butshouldalso
helplearnersunderstandwhymanyteachersencouragetheirstudentstoembracenewviewsof
knowledgeandlearning.

CRITICALTHINKING:ATOOLFOR
Wisdomisnotaproductofschoolingbutof
EVERYONE
thelifelongattempttoacquireit
Critical thinking is so central to sound
reasoningthatitdeservesspecialattention.No
AlbertEinstein
doubt, you have encountered this term
previously,butwhatdoesitmean? Thetraditionofcriticalthinkinggoesbackatleast2,500
years to the time of Socrates who established the importance of evidence, questioning, and
analysisutilizingSocraticquestioning. Sincethen,manyothers(includingPlato,Aristotle,
ThomasAquinas,FrancisBacon,Descartes,andKant,justtonameafew)havecontributedto

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Wirth&PerkinsLearningtoLearn

thedevelopmentoftoolsforcriticalthought.Manyscientists(e.g.,Newton,Boyle,andDarwin
areafewnotableexamples)haveappliedthetoolsofcriticalthinkingtodevelopnewmodelsof
ournatural world. The methods ofcritical thoughtare bynomeans limited to thinking in
science,buthavealsobeenappliedinvirtuallyallotherdisciplines.Theyinvolvebothcognitive
andaffectivecomponents.
Aswithothertermsintroducedinthisdocument,letusstartwithadefinition.Scrivenand
Paul suggested the following definition to the National Council for Excellence in Critical
Thinking(http://www.criticalthinking.org/aboutCT/define_critical_thinking.cfm):
Criticalthinkingistheintellectuallydisciplinedprocessofactivelyandskillfully
conceptualizing,applying,analyzing,synthesizing,and/orevaluatinginformation
gatheredfrom,orgeneratedby,observation,experience,reflection,reasoning,or
communication,asaguidetobeliefandaction.Initsexemplaryform,itisbased
onuniversalintellectualvaluesthattranscendsubjectmatterdivisions:clarity,
accuracy,precision,consistency,relevance,soundevidence,goodreasons,depth,
breadth,andfairness.
Notethatthebeginningofthisdefinitionemphasizesthatcriticalthinkingmustbeactivelyand
skillfullyapplied.Theessentialelementsofreasoningthatshouldbeemployedinallthinking,
regardlessofdiscipline,aregiveninTable4.Additionally,intellectualstandards(e.g.,clarity,
accuracy,precision,relevance,depth,breadth,logic,significance,andfairness)andtraits(e.g.,
intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, confidence in reason, intellectual perseverance,
fairmindedness, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, and intellectual autonomy) should
also be applied to thinking to ensure quality (http://www.criticalthinking.org/articles/critical
mind.cfm).
Statedanotherway,criticalthinkingisthinkingthatassessesitself.Itexaminestheelements
ofthoughtandisbasedonintellectualvaluesthattranscendtheframeofreferenceofthethinker
andthesubjectmatter,purpose,implications,andconsequencesofthethinking. Scrivenand
Paulalsonotethatcriticalthinkinghastwocomponents:1)asetofskillstoprocessandgenerate
information,and2)thehabitofusingthoseskillstoguidebehavior. Inotherwords,itsnot
sufficienttohavetheskillsforcriticalthinking,youalsoneedtoemploythem. Inanother
documentfromtheNationalCouncilforExcellenceinCriticalThinking,PaulandElder(2004)
arguethattherearetwoessentialdimensionsofthinkingthatstudentsneedtomaster:1)beable
toidentifythepartsoftheirthinking,and2)beabletoassesstheiruseofthosepartsin
thinking.PaulandElder(2004)suggestthefollowingelementsofcriticalthinking:

Allreasoninghasapurpose
Allreasoningisanattempttofiguresomethingout,tosettlesomequestion,tosolve
someproblem
Allreasoningisbasedonassumptions
Allreasoningisdonefromsomepointofview

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Allreasoningisbasedondata,information,andevidence
Allreasoningisexpressedthrough,andshapedby,conceptsandideas
Allreasoningcontainsinferencesbywhichwedrawconclusionsandgivemeaning
Allreasoningleadssomewhere,hasimplicationsandconsequences

Theelementsofonesreasoningcanbeassessedusingstandardssuchasclarity,precision,
accuracy,relevance,depth,breadth,logic,andsignificance.Itisimportanttoregularlymonitor
yourthinkingforflawedintellectualstandardssuchasitmustbetruebecause:Ibelieveit;
webelieveit;Iwanttobelieveit;Ihavealwaysbelievedit;itiseasiertobelieveitthan
to understand it; or because it is in my vested interest to believe it (see
http://www.criticalthinking.org/articles/criticalmind.cfm). It should be clear from the above
discussion, and the guidelines in Table 4, that questioning is the key to sound reasoning.
Questionsdefinethepathofourthinking,theydeterminetheevidencethatweseek,andthey
Table4.

Guidelinesfordevelopingelementsofreasoning(modifiedfromPaul&Elder,
2004).

ElementsofReasoning
PurposeorMotivation

QuestionorProblem
Assumptions
PointofView

Data,Information,Evidence

ConceptsandIdeas
InferencesandConclusions
ImplicationsandConsequences

Guidelines
Choosesignificantandrealisticpurposes;stateyoupurposeclearly;
distinguishyourpurposefromrelatedpurposes;periodicallycheckthat
yourpurposeisstillvalid
Clearlyandpreciselystatethequestion;reformulatethequestion
severaldifferentwaystoclarifyitsmeaningandscope;identifyifthe
questionhasonerightanswer,isamatterofopinion,orrequires
reasoningfrommorethanonepointofview
Clearlyidentifyyourassumptionsanddetermineiftheyarejustifiable;
considerhowtheassumptionsareshapingyourpointofview
Clearlyidentifyyourpointofview;seekotherpointsofviewand
identifytheirstrengthsandweaknesses;seekanopenminded
evaluationofallpointsofview
Restrictyourclaimstothosesupportedbythedatathatyouhave;search
forevidencethatopposesyoupositionaswellassupportsit;makesure
thatallinformationisclear,accurate,andrelevanttothequestion;make
surethatyouhavegatheredsufficientinformationtoaddressthe
questionathand
Identifykeyconceptsandexplainthemclearly;consideralternative
concepts;makesureyouareusingconceptswithcareandprecision
Inferonlywhattheevidenceimplies;checkinferencesforinternal
consistency;identifyassumptionwithleadyoutoyourinferences
Tracetheimplicationsandconsequencesthatfollowfromyou
reasoning;searchfornegativeaswellaspositiveimplications;consider
allpossibleconsequences

leadustonewlevelsofunderstanding.Neverstopaskingquestions!

METACOGNITION:THINKINGABOUTONESOWNTHINKINGANDLEARNING

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Wirth&PerkinsLearningtoLearn

Intentional thought about ones own


Iwenttoabookstoreandaskedthesales
thinking(metacognition)isgenerallyregarded
woman, Wheres the selfhelp section?
as an essential component of successful
Shesaidifshetoldme,itwoulddefeatthe
thinkersandlearners.Studiesshowexperts purpose
constantly monitor their understanding and
GeorgeCarlin
progress during problem solving. Critically,
theirmetacognitiveskillsallowthemtodecidewhentheircurrentlevelofunderstandingisnot
adequate.Thistypeofplanning,selfmonitoring,selfregulation,andselfassessmentnotonly
includes general knowledge about cognitive processes and strategies, but also appropriate
conditions for use of those strategies, and general selfknowledge. Research suggests that
metacognitiveskillscannotbetaughtoutofcontext.Inotherwords,onecantjusttakeacourse
onmetacognition.Youneedtolearnitandapplyitwithinthecontextofdisciplinarycontent.
As you are learn, you should engage in constant questioning (e.g., What am I trying to
accomplish?Whatisthebeststrategyforlearning?Howismyprogress?DidIsucceed?).This
sortofselfmonitoringandreflectionnotonlyleadstodeeperandmoreeffectivelearning,but
alsolaysthegroundworkforbeingaselfdirectinglearner.

EFFECTIVELEARNINGANDLEARNINGSTYLES
Fromwhatyouhavereadsofarinthisdocument,itshouldbeclearthatthebestlearning
occurswhenstudentsareengagedinactivelearningwhentheyaredoingthingsinsteadof
sitting passively and listening. A classic study by the National Training Board found that
studentsretainedonly5%oftheinformationtheyreceivedinlecture,twentyfourhourslater.
Retention rates increased to7590%whenactivelearning involving peerteaching was used
instead oflectures. Otheractive learning methods (e.g.,demonstration anddiscussion)also
resulted in higher retention rates (30% and 50%, respectively). In another study of the
effectiveness of lectures (McLeish 1968; cited in Fink 2003), students were tested on their
understandingoffacts,theory,andapplicationafterhearingalecturethatwasspeciallydesigned
tobeeffective.Despitebeingabletousetheirownlecturenotesandaprintedsummaryofthe
lecture,averagestudentrecallafterthelecturewasonly42%.Aweeklaterrecallhaddroppedto
only20%.
Inarecentreviewoftheeffectivenessofactivelearning,Prince(2004)foundextensive,
widespread support for active learning approaches, especially when activities were designed
aroundimportantlearningoutcomesandpromotedthoughtfulengagement. Manyinstructors
recognize that active learning results in
significantimprovementsinstudentknowledge Arockpileceasestobearockpilethe
retention, conceptual understanding, momentasinglemancontemplatesit,
bearingwithinhimtheimageofacathedral
engagement,andattitudesaboutlearning.
A commonly used approach in active
AntoinedeSaintExupry
learningiscooperativelearning.Anenormous

Wirth&PerkinsLearningtoLearn

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body of research confirms the effectiveness of cooperative learning. Compared with more
traditionalindividualizedandcompetitivemodelsoflearning,studentswholearnincooperative
groupsexhibitmarkedlyimprovedindividualachievement,metacognitivethought,willingness
to assume difficult tasks,persistence, motivation, andtransfer oflearning tonew situations,
(e.g., Johnson et al. 1991; Prince 2004). Cooperative learning also improves relationships
betweenstudentsandbetweenstudentsandfaculty,anditgenerallyimprovesselfesteemand
attitudestowardlearning.
Alargebodyofresearchindicatesthatpeoplehavedifferentlearningstyles(seeFelder1993;
andreferencestherein).Alearningstyleisastudentswayofrespondingtoandusingstimuli
inthecontextoflearning(Clark2004). Thatis,peopletendtofocusondifferenttypesof
information,theytendtooperateonthatinformationdifferently,andtheyachieveunderstanding
atdifferentrates.Importantly,nosinglelearningstyleisbetterorworsethantheothers.They
aresimplydifferent.Althoughtheeffectsoflearningstylesonlearninghavebeendifficultto
quantify,newevidencesuggeststhatthevariousstylesoflearningcanbemappedbothtothe
learning cycle and to the different functional regions of the brain. Many instructors teach
(inadvertently?)inwaysthataremostakintotheirownstylesoflearning.
Onceawareofyourlearningstyle,youcanimprovelearningbytranslatingmaterialfrom
other modes into a mode that best fits you. The many dimensions of learning style are
complex andarenotentirely understoodatpresent. As aresult, thereareseveraldifferent
modelsincommonuse.Onelearningstyleindicatorcurrentlyenjoyingconsiderablepopularity
istheVARK(Visual,Aural,Reading,Kinesthetic)guidetolearningstyle,developedbyN.
Fleming in 1987 (http://www.varklearn.com). The VARK questionnaire profiles user
preferencesforabsorbingandcommunicatinginformationinalearningcontext.Inthissenseit
isnotalearningstyleindicatorbecauseitfocusesononlyonedimensionoflearning. This
questionnaire not only provides insight into ones learning preferences, but also provides
strategiesforusingthosepreferencestoenhancelearning.Interestingly,researchsuggeststhat
ones preferred learning style can change with age and experiences. Complete the VARK
questionnaire(http://www.varklearn.com)todetermineyourownlearningpreferencesandfind
strategiesforenhancingyourlearning.

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In yet another model, H. Gardner (1993) proposed that there are multiple intelligences
(verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical musical/rhythmic, visual/spatial, body/kinesthetic,
interpersonal,intrapersonal,andnaturalist),butthatweuseonlyoneortwooftheseformost
effective learning. To find your preferences, take the multiple intelligences inventory at:
http://ps.uvm.edu/pss162.learning_styles.html.Finally,FelderandSilverman(1988)andFelder
(1993)havesynthesized thefindings ofseveral oftheprevious studies intoalearning style
modelthatisparticularlyrelevanttoscienceeducation(Table5).
Insummary,therearemanydifferentwaysofmodelingthewaysoflearning.Noonemodel
providesacompletedescriptionoflearning,andnosinglelearningstyleissuperiortoanother.
However,itisimportanttobeawareofyourownlearningstylepreferencessothatyoucanmake
thenecessaryadjustmentstomaximizeyourlearning.Ifyouhavegood,caring,instructorsyou
willencounter unfamiliar pedagogies (e.g.,active learning, cooperative learning, justintime
learning,studentcenteredlearning,casestudies,writingtolearn,grouplearning,assessmentas
learning,problembasedlearning,servicelearning,onlinelearning)inyourcourses.Thesehave
largelybeendesignedtoteachtoawidevarietyoflearningstylesandtofacilitatelearningthe
contentandskillsencompassedwithinsignificantlearning.Someofthesenewinstructional
approachesmayseemforeignatfirst,butkeepanopenmindandtrytounderstandtheobjectives
of each pedagogical approach. If you have questions about classroom methods, ask your
instructor.Mostteachersarehappytodiscussinstructionalpracticeswiththeirstudents.

UNDERSTANDINGGRADES
Inmanyrespects,gradesareanunfortunatepartofthelearningprocess. Manystudents,
especially those new to college, do not have a clear understanding of what it takes to be
successfulinthecollegeenvironment. Forotherstudents,thefocusistooeasilyshiftedfrom
learningtogrades.Forthecollegeteacher,assigninggradesattheendofthesemestercanbe
simultaneouslyrewardingandfrustrating.Whenastudenthasworkedhard,challengedhimself
orherself,andshownevidenceofdeeplearning,itisverygratifyingtoassignahighmark.In
contrast,itisverytryingtoassignalowmarktoastudentwhohasgreatpotential,butwhohas
demonstratedsurfacelearningorhasmadelittleefforttoimprove.Althoughasinglelettergrade
Table5.Learningstyledimensions(modifiedfromFelder,1993).
ElementsofLearning
TypeofInformation
ModalityofSensoryInformation
OrganizationofInformation
PreferredMethodforProcessingInformation
MethodofProgressingTowardUnderstanding

LearningStyleDimensions
Sensory(sights,sounds,physicalsensations)orintuitive
(memories,ideas,insights)
Visual(pictures,diagrams,graphs,demonstrations)or
verbal(sounds,writtenandspokenword,formulas)
Inductive(underlyingprinciplesareinferredfromfacts)or
deductive(consequencesarededucedfromprinciples)
Active(throughengagementinphysicalactivityor
discussion)orreflective(throughintrospection)
Sequential(logical,incrementalsteps)orglobal(holistic,
largejumps)

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doesnotadequatelyrepresentthesumtotalofapersonspotentialorabilities,itisawidely
accepted method for summarizing a students performance in a particular course. Overall
performanceinacourseisundoubtedlyafunctionofmanythings,butcanbedistilleddowntoa
students native ability and motivation (as indicated by attendance, preparation, attitude,
curiosity,effort,andretention).Althoughgreatereffort(workinghard)inacoursecanresultin
improvedresults(learning),thisisnotnecessarilyalwaysthecase.Itisimportantnottoconfuse
these two very important, but different, dimensions of performance. Effort alone does not
guaranteesuccess. Conversely,themostoutstandingstudentinaclassroomisnotnecessarily
theindividualwiththegreatestnativeability.Lookoverthefollowingtable(Table6),modified
fromwellknownpapersinTheTeachingProfessorbyJ.H.Williams(1993)andSolomonand
Nellen(1996)toevaluateyourownbehaviorintheclassroom.Inwhichaspectsdoyouexcel?
Whichonesneedimprovement? Remember,timeontaskisthesinglevariablemosthighly
correlatedwithlearning.Iflearningisnotyourhighestpriority,thenyoushouldnotexpectto
receiveanAandyoushouldworktowardamoreattainablegrade.Lastly,rememberthatnot
everyprofessorhasthesamestandardsforgradingandthatitisyourresponsibilitytoknow
whichstandardsareineffect.
Finally,itmaynotbeobvioustoyouwhythereissomuchemphasisonwritingincollege.
Writingprovidesanopportunitytoexploreoldideasandfindnewones.Simplystated,whatyou
write,andhowyouwriteit,isevidenceofyourabilitytothinkcritically(Paul2004).Whenyou
writevaguesentences,orfailtoprovidedetailedexamplestomakeapoint,itindicatesthatyour
understandingofatopiclacksclarityordetail. Whenyoufailtoprovideadetailedlogical
analysisinyourwriting,itsuggeststhatyourconceptualunderstandingmaybeweak.Alevel
workrequiresacleardemonstrationoftheelementsofcriticalthinking,includingevidenceofa
mindthathastakenchargeofitsownideas,assumptions,inferences,andintellectualprocesses
(Paul2004).Totheextentthatastudentneedsassessmentbyanotherindividual,theyarenot
thinkingcriticallyorengagingtheirmetacognitiveskills.Asastudentyoushouldstrivetobean
independent,selfdirectinglearner.
Remember,thechoicesthatyoumakeincollegemayresultinhabitsthataffecttherestof
yourlife.SkipDowning,authorofOnCourse:StrategiesforCreatingSuccessinCollegeand
inLife(2005)hasprovidedalistofcharacteristicsofsuccessfulandstrugglingstudents(Table
7).Lookoverthislist.Howdoyoumeasureup?Areyouwhereyouwanttobe,orwouldyou
liketomakesomechanges?Thechoiceisyoursandwereheretohelp!

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Wirth&PerkinsLearningtoLearn

Table6. Behavioraldimensionsofgradesandcharacteristicsofoutstandingandaverage
Table7.Characteristicsofsuccessfulandstrugglingstudents(fromCuestaCollege,2003)
students(modifiedfromWilliams,1993).
SuccessfulStudents
StrugglingStudents
Acceptpersonalresponsibilityforcreatingthe
Seethemselvesasvictims,believingforthemostpart
BehavioralDimension
AorOutstandingStudent
CorAverageStudent
outcomesandqualityoftheirlives
thatwhathappenstothemisbeyondtheircontrol
Nearlyperfectattendance;rareexcused
Sometimescomestoclasslate;
1.Attendance
absencesexceptforotherscheduled Havedifficultychoosingapurposeandoften
occasionalabsencesfromclassare
(commitment) Discoveramotivatingpurpose,characterizedby

personallymeaningfulgoalsanddreams
conflicts;makepriorarrangementsforexperiencedepressionand/orresentmentaboutthe
rarelyexcused;frequentlyputs
meaninglessnessoftheirlives
missedcontent
otherprioritiesaheadofcourse
Consistentlyplanandtakeeffectiveactionsin
Seldomidentifythespecificactionsneededto
Wellprepared;readingsand
Readingsandassignments
2.Preparation
pursuingtheirgoalsanddreams
assignmentscompletedbeforeclass accomplishatask,andwhentheydo,theytendto
completedinatimely,but
withgreatattentiontodetail;rarely procrastinate
perfunctorymannerwithlittle
Buildmutuallysupportiverelationshipsthatassist
missesdeadlines;retainsinformation Aresolitary,seldomrequesting,evenrejectingoffers
attentiontodetailorfurther
theminpursuingtheirgoalsanddreams
fromthecourseandmakesconnectionsofassistancefromlegitimateresources
contemplation;workoftenappears
Gainheightenedselfawareness,developing
Areslavesofdisempoweringlifescriptsthatcarry
withpastlearning
tobedraftquality
empoweringbeliefs,attitudes,andbehaviorsthat
themfaroffcourse
Hasamotivatingpurpose;inquisitive;
Uninterestedinsubjectmaterialand
3.Curiosity
willkeepthemoncourse
asksthoughtfulquestionsandisan
class;participatesinclassand
Becomelifelonglearners,findingvaluable
Tendtoresistlearningnewideasandskills,often
activeparticipantinclassroom
projectswithoutenthusiasm;
lessonsinnearlyeveryexperiencetheyhave
discussions;makestheextraeffortto viewinglearningasdrudgeryratherthanmentalplay
exhibitsonlymodestinterestin
Developemotionalmaturity,characterizedby
Liveatthemercyoftheiremotions,havingsuccess
learnmoreandconnectwithother
subjectmatter
optimism,happiness,andpeaceofmind
hijackedbyanger,depression,anxiety,andaneedfor
aspectsofeducationorlife
instantgratification
Hasawinningattitudeandshows
Rarelydoesmorethanrequired;
4.Attitude(dedication)
Believeinthemselves,feelingcapable,lovable,
Doubttheirpersonalvalue,feelinginadequateto
responsibility,motivationand
Seldomshowsinitiative;defensive
andunconditionallyworthyashumanbeings
determinationtosucceed;enjoysand accomplishmeaningfultasksandunworthytobeloved
aboutfeedbackandunwillingto
valueslearning;listenstofeedbackandbyothersorthemselves
acceptresponsibility;perceive
actsonit
themselvesasvictims
Possessesspecialtalentssuchas
Canhavegreatlyvaryingnatural
5.Talent(ability)
exceptionalintelligence,unusual
talent;somestudentsarequite
creativity,oroutstandingcommitment talented,butlackorganizationor
thatareevidenttotheinstructor
motivation;othersaremotivated,
butlackspecialaptitude
Learnsconceptsratherthanmemorizes Triestomemorizefactsatthelast
6.Retention
detailssobetterabletoconnectpast
minuteratherthanlearnconcepts;
learningwithpresentmaterial
makesfewconsciouseffortsto
connectnewlearningwithpast
knowledge
Reads,studies,andthinksaboutcourse
Doesnotdeveloparegularsystem
7.Effort(time
subjectonaregularbasis;begins
forstudyinganddoingassignments;
commitment)
assignmentsandprojectswellbefore
frequentlybeginsreadingsand
deadlines;oftenwillingtodevoteextra assignmentsatthelastminute;
timeandeffortwhenneeded;attention rarelywillingtodevotetime
todetail;seeksoutinstructoroutsideof necessarytodevelopdeeper
class
understanding
Speaksconfidentlyandwriteswell;
Presentationsandwrittenworklack
8.CommunicationSkills
presentationsanddocumentsarewell
organizationandclarity;papersare
conceived,wellprepared,and
generallydraftqualityrequiring
informative
extensiverewritingtobeeffective;
qualityofcontentlimitedbypoor
communicationskills
Examsandpapersarealwaysofthe
Productsaremediocreor
9.Results(performance)
highestquality(amongthehighestina inconsistentinquality;writingand
class);contributionsintheclassroom
speakingindicatesonlyacursory
aresignificantandinsightful;work
understandingratherthanamastery

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