My Elevator Pitch on Learning

As the school year ended, I was in several situations (including a Saturday morning at the barber shop) in which I overheard many conversations about schools and teachers and students and end of the year activities and summer readings… I stop the list here, but readers can imagine (with a good deal of accuracy I expect) other topics that I heard discussed. I did notice, however, that no one… not even the educators who were describing (or defending) their work… appeared to be grounding any of their conclusions, complaints, or defenses in any concept of learning that was remotely close to what cognitive and learning scientists have been elucidating over the last several decades.

I decided it was necessary to write an “elevator pitch,” that could be my brief introduction to learning for barber shops, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and any other place where “experts” on education gather and share their myths. Here, then are the four things everyone must know about learning:

  1. What we know changes depending on where we are, whom we are with, what we are thinking at the moment; “whom we are with” can be particularly powerful as our culture determines what we value and understand learning to be.
  2. No two learners are alike, and “what works” for one student is unlikely to work for another or even for the same student on a different day.
  3. Especially when concerned with long-term performance and application of knowledge, tests are a very weak predictor of skill, knowledge, or habit.
  4. Much learning can be accomplished without formal instruction and much that is learned in schools is not what was planned.