Information Age Education Blog
I have read innumerable articles about how to improve teachers, teacher education, and our overall educational system. Many focus on what we should “do” to or for students to help them learn the required curriculum. Somewhat surprisingly, relatively few provide concrete advice on what constitutes a good learner and what both teachers and students can do to help students become better learners.
This is why I was pleased to encounter the following article:
Weimer, Maryellen (1/22/2014). Seven Characteristics of Good Learners. Faculty Focus. Retrieved 1/24/2014 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/seven-characteristics-good-learners/?campaign=FF140122article.
Here is a list of Maryellen Weiner’s seven characteristics of a good learner. As a form of self-assessment and reflection, I have added a brief personal comment after each item. I challenge my readers to carry out a similar mental exercise.
1. “Good learners are curious. They wonder about all sorts of things, often about things way beyond their areas of expertise.”
Personal Comment: A healthy brain is naturally curious. I spend a lot of time on the Web satisfying my own curiosity about various topics and ideas I encounter. This is one of my forms of entertainment.
2. “Good learners pursue understanding diligently. A few things may come easily to learners but most knowledge arrives after effort, and good learners are willing to put in the time.”
Personal Comment: I am reminded of a Chinese proverb ‘“Learning without thinking is labor lost; thinking without learning is dangerous.” I focus on learning with developing personal—meaningful to me—understanding.
3. “Good learners recognize that a lot of learning isn’t fun. That doesn’t change how much they love learning.”
Personal Comment: It takes many thousands of hours of hard work to develop a high level of expertise in a physical or cognitive area. Most people find it easy to pursue alternative activities that are more fun. But, my thousands of hours of learning have brought me great joy.
4. “Failure frightens good learners, but they know it’s beneficial. It’s a part of learning that offers special opportunities that aren’t there when success comes quickly and without failure.”
Personal Comment: I often think of myself as a slow learner and a fast forgetter (un-learner). Early on in my life I found that I was a complete failure at memorizing my lines when I was in a play. At my current and steadily increasing age, I often joke about having to learn a lot each day just to stay even. This slow memory failure in certain areas is common of people as they get older.
5. “Good learners make knowledge their own. This is about making the new knowledge fit with what the learner already knows, not making it mean whatever the learner wants.”
Personal Comment: I think of learning as a constructivist process. In learning, I thoroughly integrate new material into what I already know or believe I know. I search for contradictions between the new knowledge and my current knowledge.
6. “Good learners never run out of questions. There’s always more to know.”
Personal Comment: Indeed, posing questions and then seeking answers is a key characteristic of an inquisitive, active mind. My lament: there is so much to learn, and so little time to learn it.
7. “Good learners share what they’ve learned. Knowledge is inert. Unless it’s passed on, knowledge is lost.”
Personal Comment: I consider every person to be a teacher. Through our interactions with other people, we help them learn. I have thoroughly enjoyed my career as a teacher and a teacher of teachers. I still consider each interaction I have with others as an opportunity to aid their education.
On Being a Bad Learner
The comments on what constitutes a good learner made me think about bad learners. I have trouble imagining that a student would consciously decide to be a bad learner.
A healthy human brain/mind is designed to learn all of the time, and it is driven by natural curiosity. I find it hard to imagine a young child deciding: “I don’t want to learn to talk. There are better things to do with my time than learning to communicate with my fellow humans.” However, I have encountered many people who were forced to learn things that seemed senseless to them. Aha. In a struggle between a seemingly senseless curriculum requirement and a strong healthy mind, who wins—and at what price?
We know, of course, that students vary considerably in their natural learning abilities and their rate of progress in developing additional learning skills through study and practice. Home, school, and community environments can often lead to students not developing (or, actually losing) some of the characteristics of a good learner that Weiner describes.
So, think about both nature and nurture when you encounter a student who is not learning as well as you, our educational system, and others would like. It may be that the student is a quite decent learner relative to the innate capabilities of his or her brain.
But, there are many aspects of nurture that contribute to being a poor learner. Stress is a well-studied example. Living in poverty can be very stressful for a student. Being underfed, poorly clothed, and living in an environment that is unsafe at home, in the community, and/or at school is stressful. Chronic illness presents a student both with the problems of the illness and the stress of attempting to function well under conditions of the illness. Being “different”—and being bullied for your differences—is very stressful.
There is a flip side of the problems of being a poor learner. For talented and gifted students, school can be boring. A significant number of TAG students drop out of high school because they are bored by what they consider to be “Mickey Mouse” requirements. It isn’t that they cannot learn. Rather, it is that they cannot tolerate the learning restrictions and structure being forced upon them.
What Needs to be Added to the List?
In her brief article, Weiner challenges us to add to her list. I automatically create and/or accept such a challenge when I read recommendations about how to improve education. Here are some ideas that occurred to me:
8. Good learners consciously seek to figure out how to learn a particular discipline. What works best for them will vary from discipline to discipline.
9. A good learner is aware of his or her personal strengths and weaknesses as a learner, and actively work to increase strengths and overcome weaknesses. A good teacher facilitates this type of learning. In his work with Talented and Gifted students, as well as with other students, Joseph Renzulli has long fostered the idea of a student developing a Total Talent Portfolio (Moursund, June 2009).
10. A good learner revels in the fun and excitement of technological progress occurring throughout the world. But, the learner views such changes with caution, seeking and facilitating change for the betterment of the world and its inhabitants rather than change for the sake of change.
11. A good learner understands and adheres to the often-quoted statement, “Knowledge is power, but with great power comes great responsibility.” In brief, “Do good for the world.”
12. A good learner is intrinsically motivated and copes well with delayed gratification. We live in a world that seems to preach the need for the instant gratification of one’s wants. Routinely giving in to desires for instant gratification is not conducive to the long hours of hard work required to develop a personally satisfying level of expertise in an area.
13. A good learner understands how his or her brain learns. More generally, a good learner has an understanding of educational brain science related to learning processes.
14. A good learner is future oriented. Where am I going (in my learning) and what do I need to do to get there?
What You Can Do
Assess yourself, as I have assessed myself. Add to this list, as I have added to the list. Then engage your students in ongoing discussions of what to consciously do to become a better learner. Help them to self-assess their strengths and weaknesses as a learner. When you encounter a student who seems to deliberately sabotage becoming a better learner, seek professional help for the student.
Weimer, M. (1/22/2014). Seven characteristics of good learners. Faculty Focus. Retrieved 1/24/2014 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/seven-characteristics-good-learners/?campaign=FF140122article.
Suggested Readings from IAE
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button. Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of IAE publications that might interest you.
Moursund, D. (1/19/2013). Empowering students. Information Age Education Blog. Retrieved 1/26/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/empowering-students.html.
Moursund, D. (August 2013). Setting and achieving personal learning goals. Information Age Education Blog. Retrieved 1/26/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/setting-and-achieving-personal-learning-goals.html.
Moursund, D. (June 2009). Joseph Renzulli. Information Age Education Newsletter. Retrieved 1/26/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2009-19.html.
Moursund, D. (n.d.). What the future is bringing us. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/26/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.
Moursund, D. (October 2013). Transfer of learning. Information Age Education Blog. Retrieved 1/26/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/transfer-of-learning.html.