How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition (National Research Council, 2000; hereafter, HPL I) was the result of the work of two separate committees. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, was the product of a 2-year study conducted by the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. This committee was tasked with conducting a study of the research fields that have contributed to the then-current understanding of human learning and cognitive development, in order to distill the knowledge and insight most relevant to education in the elementary and secondary grades. The goal of that study was to convey the most immediately useful developments in the science of learning to teachers, school officials, parents, and policy makers, and the original volume included a research agenda to guide the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education in developing program directions and funding priorities (National Research Council, 1999b).
Following the 1999 publication of How People Learn, a second National Research Council committee, the Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, was formed to carry the original report an essential step further by hosting a workshop to bring together practitioners, policy makers, and researchers to react to How People Learn and to discuss the issue of translating educational research into everyday school practice. The results of the workshop were captured in How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice, published in June 1999 (National Research Council, 1999c). A subsequent report focused on how people learn in the disciplines of history, mathematics, and science (National Research Council, 2005).
Unifying these first two reports was deemed valuable because the two
together revealed critical insights for improving learning in kindergarten-to-grade-12 (K-12) settings. The resulting product, HPL I, generated extraordinary interest, especially among groups and individuals responsible for the preparation of teachers. In fact, HPL I remains the third most popular report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, even decades after its publication.
Based on an accumulation of decades-long research, HPL I identified a number of key concepts in human cognition and learning that were new at the time of its publication. For example, the importance of drill and practice to students’ understanding and application of knowledge came about through a fuller understanding of (1) memory and the structure of knowledge, (2) problem solving and reasoning, (3) the early foundations of learning, (4) metacognitive processes and self-regulatory capabilities, and (5) how symbolic thinking emerges from the culture and community of the learner (National Research Council, 2000).
To demonstrate how these themes contribute to successful learning, HPL I drew on key findings from studies of expertise and concluded that experts differ from novices in more than just their general abilities (i.e., memory or intelligence) and the use of general strategies. Instead, experts have acquired extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, and interpret information in their environments, which in turn affects their abilities to remember, reason, and solve problems.
Similarly, HPL I used research studies on the concept of transfer of learning (i.e., extending what is learned to a new or different context) to understand the long-term impact learning has on other kinds of learning or performance. From the literature, HPL I drew the following conclusions:
- Skills and knowledge must be extended beyond the narrow contexts in which they are initially learned in order for deeper learning to occur.
- It is imperative for the learner to develop a sense of the application of the knowledge (or when the knowledge can be used).
- Transfer most likely occurs when the learner knows and understands the underlying general principles that can be applied to problems in different contexts.
- Conceptual knowledge promotes learning.
- Learners are most successful at learning and will sustain their own learning if they are mindful of themselves as learners and thinkers (i.e., use a metacognitive approach to learning and instruction).
The remainder of HPL I focused on children as learners, on the development of the mind and brain, and on key concepts for teachers and teaching (such as designed learning environments, subject-specific examples of effective teaching, teacher learning, and technology to support learning). In sum, HPL I
highlighted that children exhibit capacities that are shaped by environmental experiences and the individuals who care for them. Further, it noted that learning is promoted and regulated by both the biology and ecology of the child: learning produces development. Because learning changes the physical structure of the brain, and the changing structure in turn organizes and reorganizes how the brain functions, different parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different times. Finally, learning and development in childhood are influenced by the interactions between each child’s early competencies and environmental supports, interactions through which relevant capacities are strengthened.
Data collected by the National Academies Press on purchases and downloads of HPL I show that volume has been one of the most popular reports from the National Academies. The press commissioned market research in 2008 that included a structured telephone survey to determine how educators, in particular, have used HPL I in their educational settings, what they found to be its most compelling attributes, and potential new additions they believed would be useful in a revision.
While most survey respondents used HPL I as the central text for their courses and made it required reading for their students, others used it to supplement another text for specific topics or as a resource to provide a shared base of common knowledge. Due to the age of the report, many instructors reported supplementing HPL I with other materials to give students the most up-to-date information, thereby identifying the limitations of HPL I as a central text. As topics to add or update in a revision, technologies for learning and neuroscience were mentioned most often in the survey. Further, discussions with leading experts on learning from the fields of cognition, learning science, cognitive neuroscience, education, and workforce development suggested similar themes for a revision that would update areas in which significant development has occurred since HPL I was published and that may be trans-formative for understanding learning and the development of learning tools and practices in the next decade.
This page intentionally left blank.