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What is Learning?

As an educator it is important to know what it means to learn a topic versus understanding the same topic. There is a difference between learning and understanding. Understanding, is taking learning and being able to apply the knowledge to other contexts. Learning is moving from preconceptions or misconceptions to an understanding of concepts and ideas. Students need the space to work through ideas. Sometimes this requires they have the space to make mistakes and learn from them. The learning process is fluid and doesn’t happen in only one manner at a certain time and place. When we add new tech tools to our teaching repertoire, we need to understand how students process what they learn in the classroom, how it applies to their prior knowledge, and how to allow for student growth in their learning. The end goal is for students to transfer the knowledge they learn in the classroom to other content areas and also in their lives.

The way we as educators can aid students learning is through metacognition. Metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking. “A ‘metacognitive’ approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them” (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, 2000, p. 18). Students should have the ability to take control of their own learning by being able to reflect on what they understand and what they do not. This gives them the chance to think about what assistance and guidance they need. Students come with their own prior knowledge. Allowing them the time and space to think through how their prior knowledge applies, differs, or changes in relation to what they are taught in school affects their learning process.

Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) believe that educators should incorporate metacognitive skills into all contents (p. 21). When student think about their thinking, they recognize where the gaps are in their learning and understanding. This then allows teachers to intervene with additional support. While students are learning, they must adopt a growth mindset. Learning is fluid and takes time. According to Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000), educators need to be “realistic about the amount of time it takes to learn complex subject matter” (p. 56). It cannot be expected that in one day students have gone through the entire learning process and are experts on a particular topic. This means that there will be failures. The way education is structured, failing has a negative connotation. It is not looked as a learning opportunity. There usually aren’t additional chances to showcase the progression students have from their preconceptions and misconceptions to demonstrating they understand a concept or skill. Especially in the high school setting, once an assessment has been given, students are forced to move regardless of whether or not they have gain competency on the previous skill. When incorporating technology and metacognition into the classroom, we have to be conscious of allowing students multiple opportunities to showcase their learning, all while allowing students the time and space to reach this level of learning. Failure is inevitable. Incorporating metacognition allows for learning to be an ongoing process instead of ending at an assessment.

The idea of incorporating technology is to aid in the learning process by allowing students to think through their ideas, reflect, and to revise their thinking. Thus, this allows students to be able to think more deeply about their understanding and fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Metacognition incorporated with growth mindset pushes students to become independent learners. “Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait –they have a certain amount, and that’s it. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time” (Dweck, 2010, p.16). Growth mindset is important when discussing learning because during the learning process, teachers need to encourage and promote students having a growth mindset because it encourages student to continue trying when they don’t initially understand a concept or idea. Having that growth mindset allows them to believe there is room for improvement. Students then feel they are in control of what they learn and can transfer the knowledge to not only other content areas, but also to their everyday life. They no longer look at challenges as impossible tasks, but now something they can accomplish over time. It is important to understand these ideas in reference to educational technologies because we are pushing students past rote memorization into application and transfer of knowledge. Technology is a tool, but it is also a platform for where students can share their learnings or broaden their horizons.



Bransford J. D., Brown A. L., Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington D. C.: National Academies Press.

Dweck, C. S. (2010). Even geniuses work hard. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 16-20.

#MAETY1 #learning #metacognition

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