How do you think about learning? And how does mental model impact your teaching choices?

I asked myself these questions a couple of years ago, when I was working with a group of junior faculty as they considered how to revise their courses. This group tended to be quite self-effacing, saying that they did not know much about teaching or how students learn. Yet as I listened to them talk about their course revisions, I would hear ideas that are central to the way I think about learning—and ideas that regularly impact how I structure my classes.

To convey what I was hearing, I sketched out a visual model of how I think about learning and some of the teaching practices that can support it. I shared it with the group and we used it to talk about the teaching practices that they find valuable. The concept map was a pretty useful tool for that conversation, and I have found that it continues to be useful to me as I interrogate my own day-to-day teaching practices. What supports am I providing to help the people I’m working with develop their metacognitive abilities? How can I make practice tasks more authentic—and authentic to what? The ways I answer these questions depends on the group I’m working with—undergraduates learning biochemistry, graduate students developing skills and knowledge about teaching, faculty members learning about a new teaching approach—but the overall framework has been useful in a variety of contexts.

How do you think about learning? Do you have a visual model—and how does it look different from this one? What would you add or modify?  I’d love to hear and share your ideas, both about your conceptions of teaching and learning and how those conceptions can be used to modify daily practice.

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