1. Learn about it.

I’ve discovered the power of helping students find a motivation for learning. But, it is an unrealized or perceived need that is a motivator, not an “interest” or the merely novel. So, awaken in the learner’s the insight, “This is why I need to learn this.” When guiding students to “learn about” something, teach from the known to the unknown (build on prior knowledge) using pathways to learning (things that help bridge the known to the unknown: metaphors, experiences, etc.). Remember that meaningful learning is knowledge that addresses a need, solves a problem, or satisfies. So, I try to avoid the temptation of “coverage.” A course about everything and anything is a course about nothing in general. When “learning about” something, attainment of concepts and principles have more value than learning facts or receiving information.

Most helpful pedagogy: Lecture, explication, problem-posing.

Teacher action: identify knowledge category (skill, information, concepts, principle, self-understanding, etc.). Lecture on concepts and principles (not information). Apply appropriate teaching taxonomy 

2. Understand it.

Regardless of how important I think it is, merely receiving information is not sufficient to bring about meaningful learning. At appropriate intervals, I  test for comprehension and check for misunderstanding. Understanding is nuanced, it has degrees and facets, therefore, it’s helpful to attend to degrees of learning: “To what extent do you want your learner to know something?” Here, the taxonomy by Wiggins and McTigh’s facets of understanding is very helpful in being clear about what I’m teaching toward: Explanation, Application, Empathy, Self-understanding.

Most helpful pedagogy: dialog, question and answer, self-assessment, test for misunderstanding.

Teacher action: share information, provide sources of information or knowledge, test for comprehension, test for misunderstanding using appropriate assessment taxonomy.

3. Manipulate it.

For knowledge to become meaningful, learners must be able to manipulate it. Manipulating information helps internalize knowledge by creating pathways for connecting with what is known, and, processing knowledge through multiple intelligences. Manipulating information, concepts, principles, or objects helps the learner acquire understanding and a “sense” of the nature of things. The manipulation of knowledge also satisfies the need for the “experience” of knowledge. I find this often to be the most creative part of designing the learning experience.

Most helpful pedagogy: Interpret it, enhance it, diagram it, depict it, change it, deconstruct it, combine it, illustrate it, interpret it, model it.

Teacher action: provide appropriate experiential learning activity.

4. Retain it.

Meaningful learning is bringing about change to long-term memory–if the students can’t retain it, they haven’t learned it. Meaningful learning must be rehearsed in order for it to be retained and to achieve mastery. One common liability in classroom learning is a failure to rehearse learning after the test. I’ve found that I have to reduce the scope of what I teach (avoid wide coverage), and design multiple ways for students to revisit, manipulate, and apply the concepts at intervals during the course. 

Most effective pedagogy: rehearsal, memorization and recall, association, application.

Teacher action: Provide for rehearsal. Use transition induction and summary-review induction. Test for retention and accuracy of retention. Plan intervals for revisiting and rehearsing core concepts. 

5. Use it.


Knowledge becomes meaningful when a learner can use (apply) it. The challenge for classroom learning is that knowledge must be applied in the context it must be used (avoid “pretend learning.”). Failure to follow this principle results in the tendency to “teach for the test” as evidence of application. As much as possible, I find ways for students to apply what they are learning in the “real world,” outside the classroom.

Most helpful classroom pedagogy: simulation, experimentation, application in context, projects.

Teacher action: provide an application step. Provide feedback on application.


Categories: Pedagogy


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