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A New Lens on Learning

Learning Defined

We’re going to talk a lot about what learning requires; but first, we should come to a common understanding of what we actually mean by learning. Here’s a four-part definition that will inform the rest of our exploration. Each part is laid on flash cards below – flip each to learn more about each part.

Learning is:

A change in behavior, or the capacity for a change

Learning lets you do something you couldn't do before, though you'll still need the motivation and opportunity to display that new ability.

A change in behavior, or the capacity for a change

Learning lets you do something you couldn't do before, though you'll still need the motivation and opportunity to display that new ability.

A change in behavior, or the capacity for a change

Learning lets you do something you couldn't do before, though you'll still need the motivation and opportunity to display that new ability.

A change in behavior, or the capacity for a change

Learning lets you do something you couldn't do before, though you'll still need the motivation and opportunity to display that new ability.

What Learning Needs

To create and sustain a flame, three ingredients are needed – heat, fuel, and oxygen. This is called the fire triangle. If any one of those ingredients is removed, the flame dies, or fails even to start.

Learning has it’s own fire triangle – the need for an emotional. intellectual, and strategic connection to learning. Emotions fuel attention and motivation, intellectual connection facilitates processing and retention, and strategic connections support using the newly acquired knowledge to do something – communicate, create, etc.

Cognitive neuroscience has helped us see these elements in action. Tools like functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) enable us to observe what parts of the brain are activated during learning. There are three groups of neural networks that work together to support learning. Universal Design for Learning has been designed to intentionally engage all three of these networks, ensuring the fire of learning can ignite and grow.

Click the cards below to explore each and then we’ll regroup to discuss how they interact with each other to support learning.

Affective Networks: The WHY of Learning

The affective networks focus on the why of learning, the emotional connection of the individual to the learning environment.

Affective Networks: The WHY of Learning

The affective networks focus on the why of learning, the emotional connection of the individual to the learning environment.

Affective Networks: The WHY of Learning

The affective networks focus on the why of learning, the emotional connection of the individual to the learning environment.

These networks are continuously interacting with each other and the environment. For example, we can’t learn anything unless we’re paying attention to it. To emotionally connect (affective), I need something to connect to, some stimulus like a statement, picture, video, etc. (recognition), and then decide to focus my attention there (strategic). Like the fire triangle, we need each network engaged, otherwise the learning is interrupted, or even fails to start. 

These networks develop and interact with learning environments differently in every individual, based on factors such as:

  • emotional readiness

  • perceptions of the relevance and value of the learning

  • prior knowledge

  • processing capacity

  • familiarity with tools for communication

  • organizational skills

 

These factors, and many more, differ from person to person, content to content, and context to context. We do not all have the same levels of prior knowledge, nor does a person have equal amounts of prior knowledge in all contents. Our readiness to engage differs based on who and what is in the space with us. And, these variables are plastic – they change over time – we acquire new knowledge, discover new interests, develop new skills, and our perceptions of value and safety can shift. 

All these individual and contextual differences constitute what's known as learner variability. No two brains are alike, and the way each learner interacts with the learning environment is different - sometimes subtly, and sometimes dramatically. This presents a challenge for curricula, instructional models, and systems predicated on the one-size-fits-all, or at least most, model.

Universal Design for Learning helps us intentionally and systematically anticipate and support learner variability. By eliminating barriers to the engagement of all three networks, we can provide learning environments that complete that learning fire triangle.

But to do that, we need to first understand where the barriers to learning live…

Go on or go deeper

Learner variability is the first big picture concept you need to embrace in order to upgrade your educational system. You can continue to the next concept, where the barriers live, by scrolling down and clicking “Continue”. Or, if you’d like to go deeper into learner variability, you can start by exploring the resources in the tabs below.

Remember, learning is behavior change, or at least the capacity for that change. In this video, you’ll see a great analogy for the emotional, intellectual, and strategic connections necessary for that change.

This article from CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology and the architects of UDL, provides an overview of learner variability, the neural networks of learning, and the goal-directed nature of the human brain. 

 

CAST VIDEO

Author and professor Todd Rose explores the origins of our reliance on the notion of average and how we can transcend one-size-fits-none models to providing more flexible and supportive learning environments.
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