Learning & Understanding

“Reading, writing & arithmetic, that’s all you need to learn in order to make it in the world.” “I didn’t learn that way and I turned out just fine.” “The internet wasn’t around when I was in school and I passed all of my classes.” These are all sayings that I have heard in the past about the evolution of learning. In the book “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience , and School,” we learn that “In the early part of the twentieth century, education focused on the acquisition of literacy skills: simple reading, writing and calculating. It was not the general rule for educational systems to train people to think and read critically, to express themselves clearly and persuasively, to solve complex problems in science and mathematics” (Brandsford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, 4). However, now these higher ways of thinking and learning are required of everyone, students, organizations and workers (4-5). Learning now-a-days can best be defined as understanding what I know and building upon what I already know. These two ways of understanding are best done through active learning (Brandsford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).

As facilitators (teachers) we make the learning experience more human. For example, I teach independent living skills to student with intellectual disabilities, I love my job and it is extremely rewarding and challenging. One of the areas that I focus on is public transportation. One small area of this is having students learn how to use Google maps to find bus routes and times, at first I have very detailed instructions outlining step-by-step, with color coding and pictures of exactly what they are to do in order to complete the assignment. But this is just the “simple” part as Brandsford, Brown & Cocking would say. Their next level is understanding. We can teach students to follow directions, to call out regurgitated answers but the human part is best taught by a human experience. A well-designed way for the students to transfer their knowledge of finding a route on Google maps and using it in real life (Gee, 2013, 1). For my students this is going out and using public transportation, often.

However, this still does not assess that the students understand how to use Google maps. I then start having my students go and help other students in their class and teachers who are going on a field trip using public transportation. Gee would call this “talk in interaction… how to think about and organize patterns and associations in experience from talk with others, both “teachers” and fellow learners (Gee, 2013, 5). Next, they create a screencast of themselves teaching others how to use Google maps and exhibit it to the world on YouTube. In this video they need to explain why we click on “get directions” or “choose date” etc. Last, I have my students take public transportation “alone.” (Really they are shadowed by an adult from my class, however this adult is not to interact with the student.) There is one more area that will help my students grow in their understanding of Google maps and using public transportation and that is reflection. I have to admit, this is an area that I need to focus on more as a facilitator, individual and as a student teaching students.

“Knowledge must be ‘conditionalized’ in order to be retrieved when it is needed; otherwise, it remains inert (Brandsford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, 49).


Bransford, John D. Brown, Ann L. & Cocking, Rodney R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.

Gee, James P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Student Through Digital Learning. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.


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