How do we learn? There are countless videos, people, and techniques that show up when you google this question. Want to know a math equation? There’s sure to be a TikTok dance that’ll teach you just the trick for acing that test tomorrow!
But learning—really learning something—can be a challenge, but one that we can overcome with more knowledge.
In order to understand the process of learning, it’s essential to know how we learn. For students, oftentimes teachers, tutors, parents, or even an older sibling will take on the role of instructing you on how to do something. However, that’s barely the tip of the iceberg—or the learning theory pyramid.
Why Learning Theory?
It’s easy to get frustrated when learning a new skill or subject—no one likes feeling like a novice! That happens when a lesson rarely goes beyond a lecture or demonstration, preventing students from experiencing the messy and challenging part of learning by doing and evaluating their own work.
Learning theory teaches us that students best acquire knowledge by becoming active participants in their own studies—so that they don’t just memorize facts for the next test, but build skills that stay with them. Here’s how students can become effective learners by actively taking control of their own learning.
What are you learning, and what are other people saying and writing about it?
Understanding how the topic is widely presented, written about, or discussed in the world is an essential first step. For instance, if you’re researching climate change, you want to read and absorb news articles and scientific articles about the topic. You can watch videos, documentaries, and news segments about the effects of global warming, or read essays about the causes of climate change.
This step serves to provide you with a basic understanding of the topic—there’s so much more to do.
Question and Compare
Becoming a well-rounded reader and learner means understanding all aspects of your topic. As you gather multiple sources, you want to compare and contrast their arguments, evaluate sources for credibility, and learn to analyze the author’s point of view.
If you’re working on a math problem, think about other ways in which a single problem can be solved and practice those alternative ways. If you’re studying a period in history, gather primary, secondary, and tertiary sources from a variety of perspectives and learn to critically compare them.
Practice Makes Perfect
It’s one thing to learn something, and another thing to practice. You may have memorized all of the guitars and amp systems that are in the world, but that doesn’t mean you can actually play the instrument! That’s where self-learning—dedicated time for practice—comes in.
Whether it’s math problems, persuasive essays on climate change, or even the art of reading, you won’t see progress until you’re actually doing it, whether that’s independently, with a friend, or alongside an adult. Active learning comes from taking charge and keeping with it!
Assessing Your Learning
There’s a reason this is the last step in self-learning. Self-assessment is challenging! How do you know what you’re doing well and where you need improvement, and what next steps should be followed?
Observable and measurable goals and checklists can help keep you on track. If your goal is to read five books by the end of the month, try keeping a daily or weekly reading log. Be specific with the chapters and your reading minutes, so that if you don’t meet your goal, you know where to look for the next steps. Maybe you can increase your reading time or choose books that are reasonable in length.
Self-assessment doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone—it means finding the proper tools to help you succeed.
Learning doesn’t just happen during the school day or when you’re doing homework. We are all lifelong learners, whether we’re memorizing the alphabet or riding a bike for the first time. No matter the lesson, these steps can help you foster your own learning, both individually or with a partner.