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What is Learning?
From Merriam-Webster

1 : the act or experience of one that learns a computer program that makes learning fun
2 : knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study people of good education and
considerable learning
3 : modification of a behavioral tendency by experience (such as exposure to conditioning)

Key Principles of Learning

There are a vast range of theories that attempt to explain and demonstrate the way that people
Such theories can often contrast with each other depending on the type of learning they describe,
for example traditional learning theories associated with children and adolescents engaged in
‘schooling’ may differ from theories associated with adult learning.

The following list is generic and identifies the key principles associated with all types of learning
and can be applied to group situations as well as when learning alone or with a mentor, tutor or

This list is not exhaustive but it should, however, help you to understand some of the key
concepts of learning.
• People learn best when they are treated with respect and are not talked down to or
treated as ignorant. Establishing ground rules at the start of a training session will
reinforce this important principle However, for the training to be most effective and to
involve full participation, the trainer should model such exemplar behaviour.
• Learning opportunities should, when possible, be linked to previous positive
experience - this involves self-awareness on the part of the learner and understanding
and empathy on the part of any facilitator. Learning can be blocked by past negative
experiences - some people who hated school cannot bear to be in a classroom situation,
for example.
• When possible learners should take part in the planning of learning
activities. Learners should be encouraged to be self-directing in terms of goal-setting
since this usually improves commitment and motivation and increases
participation. Facilitators should examine the expectations of the learner at the start of a
course or session to help to encourage self-direction.
• People learn best when their physical environment is comfortable. In group
situations a positive emotional and supportive environment is also important; individuals
in groups tend to learn best when they can socialise and interact with other group
• Interaction with a facilitator is vital. People need to be able to react, question and
voice opinions on what they are learning. Generally, in group situations, quieter
members should be gently encouraged for their input.
• Learning activities and/or delivery need to be varied, to cover the range of different
learning styles and help the learner maintain interest and motivation. In a classroom
setting, for example, including discussions or other activities, especially some sort of
problem solving, as part of a lesson or lecture will enable learners to interact and engage
with the subject.
• Instant rewards help. People learn best if the results and/or rewards of learning are
made clear and can be demonstrated during or immediately after the learning experience.
• Self-evaluation and reflective practice is important. Learners should be encouraged to
reflect on what they have learnt and think about ways that they can further their

The PACT Learning Cycle

Many attempts have been made by academics and

others to map and explain the learning processes. It is
generally recognised that learning takes place in a
repetitive cycle, an ongoing series of processes.
The diagram below represents a generic learning cycle
and uses the acronym PACT. The cycle is relevant to
all types of learning.

The PACT learning cycle stages are:

• Procure. New knowledge (theory) or ability
(skill) is acquired.
• Apply. The new knowledge or skill is then
practiced in some way.
• Consider. The results of the practice are
evaluated and/or assessed.
• Transform. The original knowledge or ability is modified accordingly.

Learning Capacity

Our individual learning capacity varies considerably and will depend not only on ability but also
on motivation, personality, learning style and an awareness of our own learning processes.
Working on an awareness of your own learning processes means 'learning how to learn'. For
example, in university settings students are usually taught some study skills, which include
learning how to seek information when needed and how to use it appropriately.

The Principles of Learning

The Principles of Learning, developed under the direction of Lauren B. Resnick at the Institute
for Learning, Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, are
statements describing learning environments and instructional practices that enable all students
to reach high standards of achievement. Based on more than 20 years of research on learning and
cognition, the principles provide guidelines for organizing schools and classrooms in ways that
remove old assumptions that inherited ability determines what a student can learn. The following
nine principles also guide schools in establishing the kinds of curriculum and pedagogy that will
insure achievement of rigorous academic standards by all students and create robust learning
capabilities for the future:

Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum

Building on a solid foundation of knowledge, thinking and problem solving will be the "new
basics" of the 21st century.† So must the idea that we can teach knowledge without engaging
students in thinking. Knowledge and thinking are intimately joined. This implies a curriculum
organized around major concepts that students are expected to know deeply. Teaching must
engage students in active reasoning about these concepts. In every subject, at every grade level,
instruction and learning must include commitment to a knowledge core, high thinking demand,
and active use of knowledge.

Accountable Talk

Talking with others about ideas and work is fundamental to learning. But not all talk sustains
learning. For classroom talk to promote learning it must be accountable--to the learning
community, to accurate and appropriate knowledge, and to rigorous thinking. Accountable talk
seriously responds to and further develops what others in the group have said. It puts forth and
demands knowledge that is accurate and relevant to the issue under discussion.

Clear Expectations

For all students to achieve at high levels, educators must define clearly what students are
expected to learn. These expectations need to be communicated clearly so that school
professionals, parents, the community and, above all, students themselves embrace them.
Descriptive criteria and models of work that meets standards should be publicly displayed, and
students should refer to these displays to help them analyze and discuss their work. With visible
accomplishment targets to aim toward at each stage of learning, students can participate in
evaluating their own work and setting goals for their own effort.

Fair and Credible Evaluations

Educators need to use assessments that students find fair; and that parents, community, and
employers find credible. Fair evaluations are ones that students can prepare for: therefore, tests,
exams and classroom assessments--as well as the curriculum--must be aligned to the standards.
Fair assessment also means grading against absolute standards rather than on a curve, so students
can clearly see the results of their learning efforts.

Learning as Apprenticeship

For many centuries most people learned by working alongside an expert who modeled skilled
practice and guided novices as they created authentic products or performances for interested and
critical audiences. This kind of apprenticeship allowed learners to acquire complex
interdisciplinary knowledge, practical abilities, and appropriate forms of social behavior. Much
of the power of apprenticeship learning can be brought into schooling by organizing learning
environments so that complex thinking is modeled and analyzed, and by providing mentoring
and coaching as students undertake extended projects and develop presentations of finished
work, both in and beyond the classroom.

Organizing for Effort

An effort-based school assumes that sustained and directed effort can yield high achievement for
all students. Everything is organized to support this effort, to send the message that effort is
expected and that tough problems produce sustained work. High minimum standards are set and
assessments are geared to the standards. All students are taught a rigorous curriculum, matched
to the standards, along with as much time and expert instruction as they need to meet or exceed

Recognition of Accomplishment

For students to put forth and sustain high levels of effort, they must be motivated, in part,
through recognition of their accomplishments. Clear recognition of authentic accomplishment is
a hallmark of an effort-based school. This recognition can take the form of celebrations of work
that meets standards or intermediate progress benchmarks en route to the standards. Progress
points should be articulated so that, regardless of entering performance level, every student can
meet real accomplishment criteria often enough to be recognized frequently.

Socializing Intelligence

Intelligence is much more than a natural ability to think quickly and accumulate knowledge.
Intelligence is a set of problem-solving and reasoning capabilities along with the habits of mind
that lead one to use those capabilities regularly. Intelligence is also a set of beliefs about one's
right and obligation to understand and make sense of the world, and one's capacity to figure
things out over time. Intelligent habits of mind are learned through the daily expectations placed
on the learner. By calling on students to use the skills of intelligent thinking--and by holding
them responsible for doing so--educators can "teach" intelligence.

Self-management of Learning

If students are going to be responsible for the quality of their thinking and learning, they need to
develop--and regularly use--an array of self-monitoring and self-management strategies. These
metacognitive skills include noticing when one doesn't understand something and taking steps to
remedy the situation, as well as asking questions.† Students also manage their own learning by
evaluating the feedback they get from others; drawing upon past knowledge to bear on new
learning; anticipating learning difficulties and using their time accordingly.† Learning
environments should be designed to model and encourage the regular use of self-management


1 Knowledge is acquired only through thinking, reasoning, and questioning. Knowledge is
based on facts.
1 Belief is not knowledge. Beliefs are opinions acted upon as if they were facts.
2 Opinions are not based on facts, knowledge, or reasoning.
3 Critical thinking is an active process based on applying analysis, the synthesis of
data, and your ability to assess the information being received.
2 It is only from learning how to think that you learn what to think.
1 The unquestioning acceptance of what another says as fact is not learning nor is it
part of the skill of thinking critically. It, in fact, inhibits any learning from taking
2 Learning how to think does not involve rote memorization.
3 To become educated you need to learn how to gather, analyze, synthesize, assess,
and apply data for yourself.
3 Critical thinking is an organized and systematic process used to judge the effectiveness of
an argument.
1 It is void of emotional constrictions and is, consequently, unbiased.
2 In order to be most effective as a critical thinker you must have data and facts
available for a rebuttal of an argument.
3 Effective argumentation is based on empirical evidence.
4 Critical thinking is a search for meaning.
1 The meaning is for yourself in what an author or speaker says, implies, and
2 It is a way of making sense out of what you are reading or hearing in order to find
the validity of the data being presented.
5 Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned.
1 It is based on active, logical reasoning, on facts and evidence. and a desire to
2 Your attitude toward learning is all-important in being a critical thinker. It is
important that a high value be placed on learning in order for learning to be
3 The skill of critical thinking is learned by doing and by an inter-change of
information and ideas with others who are assessing thesame things. In this way
one's ideas and arguments can be presented and evaluated.
4 You must be actively involved in exchanging thoughts and ideas in order to
become a critical thinker. Sitting passively by is not how any skill is learned.