How do people learn?

Many things have influenced the ideas and processes we have about learning as educators and researchers today. Based on the text, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School by Brown, Cocking, Donovan, and Pellegrino we can study the following topics more in depth: research increasing understanding, higher expectations for learners, ability to transfer, norms as a factor, and changing lifestyles of the current day influencing the type of learning needed. For the purpose of this blog, I will go into the first three topics more in-depth, with a focus on the first chapter of the text. 

“Today, the world is in the midst of an extraordinary outpouring of scientific work on the mind and brain, on the processes of thinking and learning, on the neural processes that occur during thought and learning, and on the development of competence.” (Brown, Cocking, Donovan, Pellegrino, 2000, p.1)

Learning about learning! Thinking about learning and the process of learning seems super important to me as a teacher and is something I haven’t considered as an isolated research topic before now. I’ve heard about metacognition, but never considered teaching it explicitly. Metacognition is an important process to acknowledge for purposeful and successful learning. It is important to understand learning as a unique process and something that can be evaluated. When these authors describe the innovation of today’s resources on studying metacognition, it seems prevalent to teach. This development in research can show teachers how to think about learning more effectively, and also how to teach students to think about their own learning more effectively. This idea of self-assessing learning or metacognition is vital for all learners to see themselves as valuable and I would love to see the results in my own classroom, with this process being taught individually.

Students learn deeply and effectively when they believe they are capable of accomplishment. In this day in age, technology and evolving research is beginning to tell us just how much we as humans are really capable of. The text discusses this incentive when it says, “Developmental researchers have shown that young children understand a great deal about basic principles of biology and physical causality, about number, narrative, and personal intent, and that these capabilities make it possible to create innovative curricula that introduce important concepts for advanced reasoning at early ages.” (Brown et al., 2000, p. 4) Having high expectations for students of all ages is something that will instill in them a drive to do more than is expected, and possibly more than they have done before. This text discusses manageable difficulties.  This goes back to our class discussion of a productive struggle. This is that sweet spot where authentic learning and problem-solving takes place. It’s motivating, engaging, and worth it in the end. This lets students really tap in to what they already know and build from here. 

Learning something new isn’t effective unless it connects or organizes itself to align with something they already know. Using what the learner already knows as a basis to build on is vital in the learning process. Without a base of some kind, the new information won’t be solid or able to build upon. Preconceptions and misconceptions are the basis on which teachers need to build. The text explains this saying, “A logical extension of the view that new knowledge must be constructed from existing knowledge is that teachers need to pay attention to the incomplete understandings, the false beliefs, and the naive renditions of concepts that learners bring with them to a given subject.” (Brown et al., 2000, p.10) Starting from some idea of dividing, whether correct or not, is much better than starting with nothing at all. Allowing my students to think and collaborate through a mistake during a number talk (instead of ignoring it and starting over from my version of scratch) not only gives them a sense of pride in their learning, but allows for transfer between their understandings. They thought differently beforehand, and now think in a new way because of productive learning. 

Educational technology can be a wonderful tool and support for these concepts surrounding learning. As teachers with technology, we must consider which tool to use to support teaching metacognition, exposing students to technology of which supports them with what they’re capable, collaboration through misconceptions, and tools that allow them to see the importance of the learning to their personal lives. Using technology can open doors that before hindered our ability to provide students with these opportunities. 


Bransford, J. D., Cocking, R. R., Brown, A. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded Edition.

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