Monday, November 21, 2016

Meaningful learning

Since the IB webinar last week, I've been reading and thinking about learning:  not just acquiring knowledge but being able to use this knowledge in a variety of new ways and situations.  One of the articles I read was by Richard E Mayer on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.  I was interested in this because we use Bloom's Digital Taxonomy in our tech audit when discussing student work, and I wanted to dig a bit deeper - to go beyond the 6 categories.

Obviously, two important goals of education are to promote retention and to promote transfer.  Retention simply means that students remember material that was taught to them in the past, whereas transfer indicates more meaningful learning as it's the ability to use what was learned to solve new problems or to answer new questions in the future. Teachers traditionally teach for retention, possibly because it's easier to assess, whereas transfer is more complex as students not only need to build their knowledge, but also need to build their cognitive processes in order to devise ways of achieving a goal that they have never previously achieved.

  • Remembering - this is the lowest level of Bloom's yet it is essential that students can retrieve knowledge from their long-term memory in order to use it in more complex tasks.  If the goal of teaching is meaningful learning, then remembering is simply a means to an end, and not the end in itself. 
  • Understanding - this is where the shift from retention to transfer starts.  In his article, Mayer argues that this is where the largest category of transfer-based educational objectives are emphasized.  Understanding involves building connections between new knowledge gained and prior experience.
  • Applying - this is where students use procedures to perform exercises or solve problems.  This may be to a familiar task (for example being able to divide) or to an unfamiliar task, which is often called implementing.
  • Analyzing - this is where students break material into parts and determine how the parts relate to each other.  Analyzing can also involve students being able to determine the point of view, biases or values embedded in the material.
  • Evaluating - this is when students make judgements based on criteria and standards, and are able to determine how well something is working.  It can involve critiquing (critical thinking).
  • Creating - this is when students can put various elements together to form a coherent and functional whole - it involves making a new pattern or structure, for example when designing an original project.  
It was good to revisit some of these definitions again and to consider the implications for teaching.  If we want to promote the transfer of learning then we really need to be designing learning engagements at the higher end of the taxonomy.  It also has implications about what and how we assess.  If we as educators want to promote transfer, then we need to design assessments that go beyond recognizing and recalling.

Photo Credit: ggrosseck Flickr via Compfight cc

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