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CPD, Redesigning Classrooms

How We Learn: The Science

The summer always provides a welcome break and a some time for reading.  Apart from a bit of light reading I’ve enjoyed Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Dan & Chip Heath, Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

Book Cover

The book currently open on my electronic reading device (no advertising here) is Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates (2014).  I’m probably a bit late to this and will have missed all the reviews in the blogosphere.  It was released earlier this year and has sat, as a download, waiting to be opened for a number of months.  The book builds on the two previous books by John Hattie: Visible Learning (2009) and Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) which emphasised, “Know Thy Impact”.


The Principles

The book sets out nine principles about what is known about learning.  As educators the better we understand the learning process the more able and likely we are to intervene positively in the learning process on behalf of our students.

Here are the principles:

Principle 1

Natural ability, talent, inclination towards or intelligence do not guarantee you will be a successful learner.  Researchers have consistently and persistently found that there is a need for “substantial investments of time, energy, structured tuition and personal effort in order to develop mastery in all knowledge domains investigated.”

One for the Growth Mindset thinkers here.

Principle 2

Thinking Is Hard

Whilst we learn naturally through our senses, information needs to be organised in a way “that matches how our minds are structured and organised – and our minds change in how we structure and organise as we age.”

Prior learning matters as we are more likely to engage if we already know something about a subject.  The more automatic our recall of this information is the more readily we can take the next step in our learning.

Principle 3

Limit the cognitive load!  If we ask our students to make too great a leap in their learning, they’ll most likely fail.  Be careful of the expert who can no longer remember or empathise with how difficult the early stages of mastering something was.

Great idea here, our brain is designed for recall rather than thinking.  Thinking requires a lot of energy and does not have a guaranteed beneficial or positive outcome.

For me there is a big shout out here for the benefits the SOLO Taxonomy can bring in structuring the learning and identifying a student’s next learning step – links to both Principle 2 & 3.

Goldilocks' Principle

Principle 4

Humans learn from each other.  It’s happened throughout evolution and continues today.  We need to give “just in time” feedback.  Discover it for yourself kind of learning doesn’t work well.  Learners need their learning to be mediated and directed.  The more expert you are in making the steps in the learning explicit the better the learning will be.  Don’t forget what it was like to be a novice.

“The teacher’s role agreed upon by all parties and all theories of learning, is to invite and induce students to engage actively with learning sources.”

Hattie and Yates (2014)

Principle 5

If it’s worth our while we will increase our effort.

Motivation = Likelihood of Success X Importance to Us

If we feel a goal is achievable then we will “exert strong efforts to perform at a high level.”  The likelihood of success is a multiplier when it comes to motivation.


This old adage holds much truth, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right!”

Principle 6

Ensure short term actions are in the context of long term goals.  If students are going to learn they need to “control impulses and delay gratification”. 

The immediate tends to trump the important far too often.  Keep focussing back on the goal and the actions needed to achieve it.

Principle 7

You need to consider the whole child, their self-esteem and social context as well as their academic growth.  When threatened we take fright, take flight of have a fight none of which are conducive to learning.

Build environments in which students feel safe and it’s normal not to know the answer.  After all that’s why we go to school, to learn.

No Put Down Zone

The above graphic applies to teachers as well as students.


Principle 8

Our brain is social and we react to the physical presence of others and learn from them.  As we change “groups” our behaviours change.  Our behaviours change as the group changes.

 Principle 9

“Fallacious ideas of human learning continue to be promoted despite being contradicted by available scientific opinion and evidence.”

Various tweeters and bloggers would have a field day here.  Learning styles, multitasking (with respect to learning & thinking), computers will replace teachers (no, phew), computers increase the depth of cognition, the internet is reducing the level of students’ cognition and final music has an impact on our learning capability are all nonsense.

Cue a whole load of blogs, on the issues above, and a series of personal confessions …

I’ve no doubt in attempting to summarise a book in less than a 1000 words I’ve missed much and lost a few things in translation.  These principles are covered in more detail across thirty one chapters.  If you fancy a read this one comes well recommended.



3 thoughts on “How We Learn: The Science

  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

    Posted by heatherfblog | August 9, 2014, 8:45 am


  1. Pingback: ORRsome blog posts from the week that was. Week 31 | high heels and high notes - August 13, 2014

  2. Pingback: Edssential » How We Learn: The Science - August 24, 2014

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