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11 minutes reading time (2246 words)

How People Learn II: A Free Book from the National Academies Press

For many years I have made use of the free publications provided by the National Academies Press (NAP). The NAP provides free reports from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. These can be read online or downloaded in PDF format. Quoting from (NAP, 2019, link):

The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and medicine, providing authoritative, independently-researched information on important matters in science and health policy.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world. Our work helps shape sound policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine. Over many decades we have earned a solid reputation as the nation's premier source of independent, expert advice on scientific, engineering, and medical issues.

Each publication is the work of a number of highly qualified professionals in the area of the report. They are not “light reading.” On a much more positive note, I have found the ones I have read or browsed to be both comprehensive and trustworthy. How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures (2018) is one that I enjoyed recently–it is the focus of the blog.

The NAP documents are divided into a number of content areas such as: Computers and Information Technology; Education; Environment and Environmental Studies; Food and Nutrition; Health and Medicine; etc. Each content area is subdivided, i.e., Education is divided into:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Education Research and Theory
  • Educational Technology
  • Engineering Education
  • Higher Education | K-12 Education
  • Math and Science Education
  • Medical Training and Workforce
  • Policy
  • Reviews and Evaluations
  • Teacher Preparation and Professional Development
  • Testing, Assessments and Standards

My focus today is on a document provided in the Education Research and Theory section, How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures (2018). This is what the National Academies calls a Consensus Study Report, a document they define as:

Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task. [Bold added for emphasis.]

In essence, this statement means that the authors and NAP attest that this publication is not fake news. Quoting from How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures:

This book does not presume to provide answers to specific educational dilemmas—recipes for teaching or the proverbial “what to do on Monday morning.” Instead, the committee hopes that the book will be a tool that can enrich discussions about research and practice in education and learning for people of all ages. We have tried to present the existing scientific evidence in the most straightforward, accurate, and complete way that we can, and to synthesize and interpret the findings creatively. However, the practical applications that derive from the science will never be completely straightforward because the real world is highly complicated, with many moving parts and hidden complexities. The committee therefore asks you, the reader, to think critically about the findings we present in relation to your own work, and about how the findings reviewed here square with evidence and policies used to justify educational strategies, policies, and research questions in your professional context. Only through active debates and attempts to contextualize and adapt the findings beyond the narrow settings in which they often were studied will we create significantly new understanding and better policy and practice as they relate to learning. [Bold added for emphasis.]

A Short Example of the Content

The following quoted sections from How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures provide some insight into the “flavor” of the book:

Intrinsic Motivation

Self-determination theory posits that behavior is strongly influenced by three universal, innate, psychological needs—autonomy (the urge to control one’s own life), competence (the urge to experience mastery), and psycho- logical relatedness (the urge to interact with, be connected to, and care for others). Researchers have linked this theory to people’s intrinsic motivation to learn (Deci and Ryan, 1985, 2000; Ryan and Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation is the experience of wanting to engage in an activity for its own sake because the activity is interesting and enjoyable or helps to achieve goals one has chosen. From the perspective of self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985, 2000; Ryan and Deci, 2000), learners are intrinsically motivated to learn when they perceive that they have a high degree of autonomy and engage in an activity willingly, rather than because they are being externally controlled. Learners who are intrinsically motivated also perceive that the challenges of a problem or task are within their abilities.

External Rewards

The effect of external rewards on intrinsic motivation is a topic of much debate. External rewards can be an important tool for motivating learning behaviors, but some argue that such rewards are harmful to intrinsic motivation in ways that affect persistence and achievement.

For example, some research suggests that intrinsic motivation to persist at a task may decrease if a learner receives extrinsic rewards contingent on performance. The idea that extrinsic rewards harm intrinsic motivation has been supported in a meta-analysis of 128 experiments (Deci et al., 1999, 2001). One reason proposed for such findings is that learners’ initial interest in the task and desire for success are replaced by their desire for the extrinsic reward (Deci and Ryan, 1985). External rewards, it is argued, may also undermine the learner’s perceptions of autonomy and control.

What You Can Do

I frequently make the statement that every person is both a lifelong learner and a lifelong teacher. As a teacher (of yourself and others) you certainly want to know quite a bit about how your audiences (learners such as yourself and others) actually learn.

This 328-page book has a quite extensive Table of Contents. I recommend that you browse it, find a topic that especially interests you (provides you with intrinsic motivation), and spend some time reading that section. If this little foray into the book proves beneficial to you, then from time to time you may want to return to the Table of Contents for another topic that you find intrinsically motivating. My suspicion is that, while very few people will read the book from cover to cover, many will find one or more sections to be personally challenging and motivating. Enjoy!

Reference

NAP (2019). The National Academies Press. Retrieved 9/12/2019 from https://www.nap.edu/content/about-the-national-academies-press.

How People Learn II: A Free Book from the National Academies Press

For many years I have made use of the free publications provided by the National Academies Press (NAP). The NAP provides free reports from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. These can be read online or downloaded in PDF format. Quoting from (NAP, 2019, link):

The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and medicine, providing authoritative, independently-researched information on important matters in science and health policy.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world. Our work helps shape sound policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine. Over many decades we have earned a solid reputation as the nation's premier source of independent, expert advice on scientific, engineering, and medical issues.

Each publication is the work of a number of highly qualified professionals in the area of the report. They are not “light reading.” On a much more positive note, I have found the ones I have read or browsed to be both comprehensive and trustworthy. How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures (2018) is one that I enjoyed recently–it is the focus of the blog.

The NAP documents are divided into a number of content areas such as: Computers and Information Technology; Education; Environment and Environmental Studies; Food and Nutrition; Health and Medicine; etc. Each content area is subdivided, i.e., Education is divided into:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Education Research and Theory
  • Educational Technology
  • Engineering Education
  • Higher Education | K-12 Education
  • Math and Science Education
  • Medical Training and Workforce
  • Policy
  • Reviews and Evaluations
  • Teacher Preparation and Professional Development
  • Testing, Assessments and Standards

My focus today is on a document provided in the Education Research and Theory section, How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures (2018). This is what the National Academies calls a Consensus Study Report, a document they define as:

Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task. [Bold added for emphasis.]

In essence, this statement means that the authors and NAP attest that this publication is not fake news. Quoting from How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures:

This book does not presume to provide answers to specific educational dilemmas—recipes for teaching or the proverbial “what to do on Monday morning.” Instead, the committee hopes that the book will be a tool that can enrich discussions about research and practice in education and learning for people of all ages. We have tried to present the existing scientific evidence in the most straightforward, accurate, and complete way that we can, and to synthesize and interpret the findings creatively. However, the practical applications that derive from the science will never be completely straightforward because the real world is highly complicated, with many moving parts and hidden complexities. The committee therefore asks you, the reader, to think critically about the findings we present in relation to your own work, and about how the findings reviewed here square with evidence and policies used to justify educational strategies, policies, and research questions in your professional context. Only through active debates and attempts to contextualize and adapt the findings beyond the narrow settings in which they often were studied will we create significantly new understanding and better policy and practice as they relate to learning. [Bold added for emphasis.]

A Short Example of the Content

The following quoted sections from How People Learn II: Learners, Context, and Cultures provide some insight into the “flavor” of the book:

Intrinsic Motivation

Self-determination theory posits that behavior is strongly influenced by three universal, innate, psychological needs—autonomy (the urge to control one’s own life), competence (the urge to experience mastery), and psycho- logical relatedness (the urge to interact with, be connected to, and care for others). Researchers have linked this theory to people’s intrinsic motivation to learn (Deci and Ryan, 1985, 2000; Ryan and Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation is the experience of wanting to engage in an activity for its own sake because the activity is interesting and enjoyable or helps to achieve goals one has chosen. From the perspective of self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985, 2000; Ryan and Deci, 2000), learners are intrinsically motivated to learn when they perceive that they have a high degree of autonomy and engage in an activity willingly, rather than because they are being externally controlled. Learners who are intrinsically motivated also perceive that the challenges of a problem or task are within their abilities.

External Rewards

The effect of external rewards on intrinsic motivation is a topic of much debate. External rewards can be an important tool for motivating learning behaviors, but some argue that such rewards are harmful to intrinsic motivation in ways that affect persistence and achievement.

For example, some research suggests that intrinsic motivation to persist at a task may decrease if a learner receives extrinsic rewards contingent on performance. The idea that extrinsic rewards harm intrinsic motivation has been supported in a meta-analysis of 128 experiments (Deci et al., 1999, 2001). One reason proposed for such findings is that learners’ initial interest in the task and desire for success are replaced by their desire for the extrinsic reward (Deci and Ryan, 1985). External rewards, it is argued, may also undermine the learner’s perceptions of autonomy and control.

What You Can Do

I frequently make the statement that every person is both a lifelong learner and a lifelong teacher. As a teacher (of yourself and others) you certainly want to know quite a bit about how your audiences (learners such as yourself and others) actually learn.

This 328-page book has a quite extensive Table of Contents. I recommend that you browse it, find a topic that especially interests you (provides you with intrinsic motivation), and spend some time reading that section. If this little foray into the book proves beneficial to you, then from time to time you may want to return to the Table of Contents for another topic that you find intrinsically motivating. My suspicion is that, while very few people will read the book from cover to cover, many will find one or more sections to be personally challenging and motivating. Enjoy!

Reference

NAP (2019). The National Academies Press. Retrieved 9/12/2019 from https://www.nap.edu/content/about-the-national-academies-press.

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Monday, 09 December 2019
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