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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
elements of modeling, coaching, and scaffolding, as well as collective problem solving and whole-class and small group discussions, are used. Gradually, students come to ask self-regulatory questions themselves as the teacher fades out. At the end of each of the problem-solving sessions, students and teacher alternate in characterizing major themes by analyzing what they did and why. The recapitulations highlight the generalizable features of the critical decisions and actions and focus on strategic levels rather than on the specific solutions (see also White and Frederickson, 1998).
An emphasis on metacognition can enhance many programs that use new technologies to introduce students to the inquiry methods and other tools that are used by professionals in the workplace (see Chapter 8). The important role of metacognition for learning has been demonstrated in the context of a “thinker tools” program that lets students run simulations of physics experiments (White and Frederickson, 1998), as well as in adding a metacognitive component to a computer program designed to help college students learn biology. The value of using video to model important metacognitive learning procedures has also been shown to help learners analyze and reflect on models (Bielaczyc et al., 1995). All of these strategies engage learners as active participants in their learning by focusing their attention on critical elements, encouraging abstraction of common themes or procedures (principles), and evaluating their own progress toward understanding.
LEARNING AS TRANSFER FROM PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES
When people think about transfer, it is common to think first about learning something and then assessing the learner’s abilities to apply it to something else. But even the initial learning phase involves transfer because it is based on the knowledge that people bring to any learning situation; see Box 3.8. The principle that people learn by using what they know to construct new understandings (see Chapter 1) can be paraphrased as “all learning involves transfer from previous experiences.” This principle has a number of important implications for educational practice. First, students may have knowledge that is relevant to a learning situation that is not activated. By helping activate this knowledge, teachers can build on students’ strengths. Second, students may misinterpret new information because of previous knowledge they use to construct new understandings. Third, students may have difficulty with particular school teaching practices that conflict with practices in their community. This section discusses these three implications.