What is Learning?

In education, the first things that come to the mind for many people are: teachers and students. Teachers are the ones who guide, facilitate, and create learning opportunities for their students. In return, students expand on prior knowledge, and apply their knowledge into new experiences. It may sound simple, but there are many factors to take into consideration. Number one, and most importantly- the student.

Being a learner in the 21st century takes on a different meaning than it did in the past. There are higher expectations and larger demands that people face today on both the local and global scale. With the ease of communication and collaboration, learning is shifting from “being able to remember and repeat information, to being able to find and use it” (Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J., 2000, p.10). Luckily for learners today, research has been conducted to find the best methods for assisting people in becoming experts in not only content knowledge, but in their ability to transfer this knowledge to meaningful situations.

As students enter any given educational setting, they are bringing with them a set of learning experiences and background knowledge. This means different things for different students, as some information is accurate, and some may be misconceived. Therefore, it is crucial for teachers to begin by assessing and taking into consideration what a student already perceives about what is being learned (Donovan, S., et al., 2000, p. 11). Once teachers have an idea of where their students are coming from, they may proceed to change or build upon these ideas, connecting prior knowledge with new knowledge and thinking skills.

Another crucial piece of learning comes with students being active learners. There is a shift here from a teacher centered classroom, to a student centered learning environment. Students need to be taught metacognition and to predict or reflect on their performance within given tasks. These practices have been proven to increase the ability for learners to transfer their knowledge to new settings and events (Donovan, S., et al., 2000, p. 19). Assessing one’s self should be formative and ongoing, to provide both teachers and students with feedback. Feedback that may lead to the adjustment of pedagogy and/or content during the learning process (Donovan, S., et al., 2000, p. 24). Along with this self-reflection is the opportunity for students to work collaboratively with others. Groups of students may assist each other with problem solving, building ideas upon multiple thoughts, and moving collectively toward the learning goal (Donovan, S., et al., 2000, p. 25).

The factors explored above mesh well with the work done by Jane E. Pollock, in a very practical way- regarding the lesson design, GANAG. The “G”- Goal, and “A”- Accessing prior knowledge- tap into students being aware of what they are about to embark on educationally, and allows for interaction with this goal- to make synapses between what they are already know and how they may build upon this pre-existing knowledge. The “N”- is the New knowledge or skill being taught- deriving from benchmarks and student needs, ultimately building upon their current knowledge. The second “A”- Application, opens the door to work collaboratively with other students and actively explore this new knowledge. Finally the second “G”- Generalization, provides students with the opportunity for formative assessment and to consider how they may use this learning objective in other areas or tasks.

The difference between who is viewed as an expert of knowledge and a novice of knowledge is also important in understanding the learner. The expert is not someone who can spew out numerous unrelated facts. While, a deep comprehension of content knowledge is necessary, there is more to consider. Novices need guidance on making meaningful connections and creating patterns, so content is not seen as isolated. Experts are aware of when pieces of information are important- noting the context versus the content of the material. They are capable of retrieving the pertinent information necessary for related tasks (Donovan, S., et al., 2000, p. 43). The fluency by which experts may retrieve this knowledge is also key, as it permits fewer constraints on the actual process or new situation at hand (Donovan, S., et al., 2000, p. 44). (A fourth grader’s conditionalized knowledge of multiplication facts does not hinder the process of learning traditional long division) As a final descriptor, just because a learner is an expert, does not always mean he/she can teach this content. Experts may have content knowledge, but lack the pedagogical knowledge necessary to bridge a student’s prior experiences with new knowledge. The expert may be so highly versed in content that there is little awareness for what is easy and what is difficult for another student (Donovan, S., et al., 2000, p. 44), which is why teachers need to be masters of both content and pedagogy.

For a teacher, being an expert in content and pedagogy opens the door for the use of tools and technology to enhance the overall learning process. Enter TPCK. How can a teacher assist a student in moving from a novice to an amateur, an amateur to expert? Through the use of Technological, Pedagogical, Content Knowledge. When all three components are simultaneously infused, teaching and learning will be at its peak, and teachers will be guiding students toward being life long learners.

Check back soon, for updates and more information regarding the of TPCK to build learning experiences.


Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=030907036


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