If Students Learn How to Learn, How Do You Teach Your Subject?

If Students Learn How to Learn, How Do You Teach Your Subject?

By in Announcements, Lifelong Learning | 0 comments

If you think back to what made you become a teacher, most likely it was a need to infuse students with values and the passion for your subject. Together with this passion you have for your subject is an entire body of knowledge that you have. For you, this body of knowledge is where you draw inferences from and what helps you make sense of new information in your area. But here is the challenge we all face today as educators when we hear about reducing curriculum content and focusing more on teaching students to “learn how to learn”: how are we to cut from this body of knowledge without reducing the ability to make inferences and make sense of new information? I cannot stress enough how much I hear from teachers about this struggle and how I empathise with it. But there is an answer to that, even though it is hard to let go of content. The first step is perhaps to fully grasp the crucial need to teach students to “learn how to learn” as we are preparing them for the future.

We hear about the information heavy age we live in today, but we need to feel the impact of this reality in our bones. If you have already seen the viral video  Did You Know? (Updated for 2017), it is always good to watch again, so it sinks in more and more. If you have not seen yet, then you can start thinking:

… The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.

…. We are preparing students to solve problem we don’t even know are problems yet.

…. A week’s worth of New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.

Did You Know? 2017

In the world today, where change is exponential, we have to stop to consider how we can best serve students to be successful and happy in their future. In the world today, where more and more we recognise and celebrate difference, we have to stop to consider how we can best serve individual needs allowing students’ passion and potential to flourish. So the transmission of knowledge has to somehow give way to sharing our process for acquiring that knowledge – luckily, that is our passion!


The acknowledgment of the needs of today’s world has fortunately resulted in research that now gives us a sound basis and a structure that help face the challenges ahead. David Conley’s well know work, for example,resulted in the Four Keys to College and Career Readiness, which can be summarised below:

“Students need to do more than retain or apply information…”

“They need to understand that success at learning content is a function of effort …”

“Students need skills and techniques to take ownership and successfully manage their learning…”

“Students … must navigate numerous potential pitfalls…”

So students need to be able to manipulate information in many different ways, go through the struggles of dealing with massive amounts of it, manage their learning process and face pitfalls in learning and in working with others. That is learning how to learn. So how do you as a teacher make time to teach those skills and balance the body of knowledge in your area that most likely keeps growing?

The key to the question above is teaching the “process” of acquiring the knowledge in your area. This is something we never really bothered about. But students need to hear you model the struggles of learning in your area, they need to go through the struggles themselves, get feedback, learn from others and make sense of the growing amount of information available to everyone. This is certainly a way for you to share you passion for the subject, by sharing the process of falling in love with it. This is very powerful but we had never thought about this type of sharing, or thus type of teaching.

Paul T. Corrigan in a blog post shared below, explains very clearly the difference between teaching the content knowledge and teaching students to learn how to learn that content knowledge. Now it is your turn!

Instead of telling your students:

Welcome to Economics 101 where you will learn about macroeconomics, microeconomics, and personal finance.

We might say something to this effect:

Welcome to Economics 101 where you will learn how to learn about economics. We’ll start with several economics topics that I’ve selected in advance (macroeconomics, microeconomics, and personal finance), not just so you will know about these specific topics but so that you will have the opportunity to practice learning economics and reflect on the process – all in order for you to learn how to learn yet-to-be-determined economic topics that you will find important in the future”

Paul T. Corrigan, Preparing Students for What We Can’t Prepare Them For


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