Saturday, October 31, 2015

7 Ways of Learning

If you haven’t read Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning:  A Resource for More Purposeful, Effective, and Enjoyable College Teaching by Davis and Arend, I highly recommend it. (We've ordered it for the library but I would be happy to lend my copy to anyone who wants to take a look at it right away.)
Their thesis is that we learn in different ways depending on which of seven desired outcomes we are targeting: building skills; acquiring knowledge; developing critical, creative and dialogic thinking; cultivating problem-solving and decision-making abilities; exploring attitudes, feelings and perspectives; practicing professional judgment; or reflecting on experience). Each way of learning, they believe, requires different ways of teaching. Teachers who don't use a variety of teaching methods, therefore, are teaching too narrowly. 

If we simply want our students to acquire knowledge of a topic, for instance, we can teach via lecture and readings.  If we want them to learn specific skills, on the other hand, we can’t lecture that skill- building knowledge into existence; we need to provide practice exercises and set tasks for students to work through. If our desired outcome instead is for students to become good problem solvers, we can’t just provide canned practice exercises—we need to help them work through real-life problems, case studies, labs, projects.
It was eye-opening to consider the differences in learning outcomes, the related theories of learning associated with each, and the common teaching methodologies (See table with summary below) that lead to the desired outcomes.  Here, though, is the passage that made me stop and think hardest:
Almost anything that once required class time can be done outside class electronically, technologies can often perform educational tasks more efficiently than humans, and information is readily available for free to anyone with Internet access.  So the fundamental question arises:  What is class time for?
How would you answer that question?

Summary of Seven Ways of Learning
Intended Learning Outcomes
(What Students Learn)
Way of Learning
(Origins and Theory)
Common Methods
(What the Teacher Provides)

Skill building
(Physical and procedural skills where accuracy, precision, & efficiency are important)
1.       Behavioral learning
(behavioral psychology, operant conditioning)
·         Tasks and procedures
·         Practice exercises
Acquiring Knowledge
(basic information, concepts, and terminology of a discipline or field of study)
2.       Cognitive learning
(cognitive psychology, attention, information processing  memory)
·         Presentations
·         Explanations
Developing critical, creative, & dialogical thinking
(Improved thinking & reasoning processes)
3.       Learning through inquiry
(Logic, critical and creative thinking theory, classical philosophy)
·         Question-driven inquiries
·         Discussions
Cultivating problem-solving and decision-making abilities
(Mental strategies for finding solutions & making choices)
4.       Learning with mental models
(Gestalt psychology, problem solving, & decision theory)
·         Problems
·         Case studies
·         Labs
·         Projects
Exploring attitudes, feelings, & perspectives
(Awareness of attitudes, biases, & other perspectives; ability to collaborate)
5.       Learning through groups and teams
(Human communication theory, group counseling theory)
·         Group activities
·         Team projects
Practicing professional judgment
(Sound judgment  & appropriate professional action  in complex, context-dependent situations)
6.       Learning through virtual realities
(Psychodrama, sociodrama, gaming theory)
·         Role playing
·         Simulations
·         Dramatic scenarios
·         Games
Reflecting on experience
(Self-discovery & personal growth from real-world experience)
7.       Experiential learning
(Experiential learning, cognitive neuroscience, constructivism)
·         Internships
·         Service-learning
·         Study abroad

Davis, James R., & Arend, Bridget D. (2013). Facilitating seven ways of learning:  A resource for more purposeful, effective, and enjoyable college teaching.  Stylus: Sterling, VA.


  1. Q: What is class time for?

    I suppose if we were just teaching student-robots, or “programs “like IBM Watson, one may not require any “face-to-face class time.” Teaching humans on the other hand, deals with our fundamental subjective nature and our basic human desire to be a community. However it is a messy business, since at least for some of us, there always be a clash of our subjective natures with that of our students’. So, 1) we try to reduce the pain and pedagogical difficulties of face-to-face teaching by converting to online or hybrid version or to anything that reduces our social anxiety pain of dealing with students face-to-face, or 2) see how others are making an easy dollar from online and try to copy, cutting our work presence (who can blame it since most teachers are so under-paid and universities are struggling financially).

    I have said this before: for a large face-to-face class where a teacher teaches like a robot and views the students as robots (perhaps through no fault of his/ her fault) - just clicking presentation slides one after another; that face-to-face class has very little social/ community or educational values except having 100+ students sitting in a class being the observers of things they can easily find and read online themselves. In those cases, online classes are justified since students would feel more neglected in such face-to-face classes anyway. Unfortunately, sometime in even smaller face-to-face classes, very little learning takes place. Some would justify that for going to online.

    I do believe that many dedicated teachers somehow find ways of overcoming their pedagogical obstacles, albeit most times painfully. You place these teachers online, hybrid, face-to-face, or what I prefer which is back-breaking (all face-to-face plus online support), they “will” educate most their students, but that human community values will be missing, if not at least partly done face-to-face. I am sure others have said this: perhaps one reason social media has become so popular is because, as educators, as parents, administrators, and as a society, we no longer are willing to deal with the pain of face-to-face education or have given up. Although I teach computer science, I do not wish for machines to replace us, or us becoming the machines we create! That would be a sad day for humans.

    Ali B.

    1. Ali, are you sure you're a computer scientist? You're supposed just to be able to write code,not to write such eloquent prose! I really liked your affirmation of the human community aspect of teaching and learning and of the "pain" involved in trying to connect in the classroom in the most beneficial ways. I think, as you admit, that many teachers can teach well online and that many students can learn well online, but the hard part will be ensuring that personal sense of being part of a learning community. The whole aspect of what "teacher presence" means in an online environment is something that needs a lot more attention from both the practitioners and the theorists.

    2. Linda, your last comment about the need for attention to the meaning of "teacher presence" in an online environment, could be a very important key for the future and validity of online courses, particularly those courses that would be replacing previously proven and successful face-to-face courses.

      Ali B.

  2. 1. Ali is right. I have not read 'Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning' by Davis and Arend; but its argument, at least as presented here, is neither sound nor valid.

    2. Much of the research that I have seen, questions the premise that "we learn in different ways." We learn in very similar ways; just that some learn better than others. Experience is the best teacher; but the worst student! The fool learns from his own experience; the wise one learns from other people's experience.

    3. Even if Davis and Arend's premise were true, it would not follow that "Each way of learning requires different ways of teaching" or "Teachers who don't use a variety of teaching methods, therefore, are teaching too narrowly;" because sometimes practice makes perfect. The same method can achieve results and, sometimes, in different areas. Further, a good or effective teacher need not target more than a few outcomes; and some of the so-called seven desired outcomes can be combined into one.

    4. Even if it is true that "Almost anything that once required class time can be done outside class electronically, technologies can often perform educational tasks more efficiently than humans, and information is readily available for free to anyone with Internet access," it does not mean traditional classes are useless.

    There are many ways of skinning a cat; not all of them are equally good. Most critical thinkers in the area of technology will tell you that the fact that you can do something by computer or on the internet, does not mean you should do it (or that is the best way).

    5. The argument at issue is similar to the pre-computer one that almost everything you could learn is in a book, so there is no point in going to class instead of the library; until, one day, you find out that the library is closed or, even if it is open, you cannot figure out which books to choose or, if you choose the books, you cannot figure out which ones are good.

    6. Another analogy, is the argument that you do not have to learn how to make or repair cars; because there are many cars already made and available with no need of repairs. All you need to do, the argument goes, is to learn how to dive them; only to learn that, since most people know how to use cars, the advantage is in knowing how to make or repair them.

    7. What happens to those who just know how to surf the internet but do not know which information is right or wrong or how to put the information on the internet?

    8. The answer to the question 'What is class time for?,' is education. Education takes place everywhere, but not all education is equal.

    Safro Kwame

  3. 9. Davis and Arend, at least as they are presented in this blog, fail to distinguish between education, as a goal, and the internet which is just a tool. In so doing, they commit a category mistake.

    10. Further, they fail to take quality into account. Even if the internet were doing the same thing we do in our classes, it would not follow that the internet is doing a better job qualitatively (as opposed to reaching more people).

    Even if the internet did a better job, it would not follow that traditional classes were unnecessary; because of differences in preferences if nothing else.

    Even if all you did was use class time to have a face-to-face interaction among students and discuss material which is available on the internet, it would be valuable for those who need it. Remember, most classes do similar things, and the same classes at different places will be attended by different people for different reasons.

    11. Do you ever wonder why tax software is available on the internet for free and, yet, people do their taxes the old-fashioned way and some still pay others to do their taxes for them? I think the answer is the same here as for class time. People have preferences and, for most of them, it does not matter so long as the work gets done.

    12. It bears repeating: class time is for educations, whatever works. It has been so in the past, before the existence of the internet; it will be so after the internet. Teaching, however, has always varied from person to person, place to place, and time to time. That too, I assume, will continue to be the case.

    13. If the point is that the internet is a tool for teaching both in and out of class, it is well taken. If, however, the suggestion is that the internet makes the traditional (pre-internet) class useless or unnecessary, I think such obituaries are premature.

    Safro Kwame

    1. Kwame, I am afraid my short synopsis didn't do justice to the book's overall premise. It's not that we learn differently as much as that different things are learned better in different ways. (If I want to know the history of computers, I can listen to a lecture or read a book and learn the facts. If I want to know how to program computers, then I need hands-on activities so that I can learn by doing since mere reading isn't going to provide that important trial and error kind of learning.)

      And the "what is the classroom for?" question wasn't posed to lead to an answer of "Nothing, so let's just all sit in front of our computers." Instead it was, at least in my mind, asking, "What are the things that can be done better when people are gathered together in the same place working on the same goal?" So I don't think Davis and Arend were saying that the internet is making the traditional class useless; Instead, couldn't they just be saying, "we can do a lot of learning online; how do we best structure the precious face-to-face time we have so that we are using it in the best possible ways, doing something that can't be done as well in other sorts of learning environments?

    2. Thanks. 1. Do you not believe that all things are learned better in different ways? You can listen to a lecture or read a book and learn the facts about almost everything, and some people need hands-on activities for almost everything. We seem to have created a false dilemma. 2. I agree that "we can do a lot of learning online." The question is whether doing a lot of learning online is the same as doing it in a class? I wonder whether all learning environments are the same (for everyone).

      Safro Kwame