Essentials of Learning

Essentials for Learning - Minds in Action
Essentials of Learning
Learning results only from what the student does and thinks. The instructor can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.

How Can I Do This?

Students come to the university with a wide range of experiences in learning. They need help unlearning techniques that may have served them well in high school, but will not serve them well at UT.  If you want them to achieve a reasonably high level of competence within your discipline, then you will need to provide guidance, especially in first-year classes.

Identify the quality and nature of students' prior knowledge.


For better or for worse, students connect their new knowledge and skills to what they already "know." Understanding what your students know and are able to do upon entering your course will help you leverage their accurate knowledge and identify gaps and inaccuracies.
Provide authentic, real-world tasks set at an appropriate level of challenge.

Creating assignments requiring students to apply what they are learning and to think like a professional within the field affords them the opportunity to see the relevance and value of what they are being asked to learn.

Engage students in frequent practice with feedback.


Whether inside or outside of class, students need opportunities to practice applying the concepts being learned within your course. They also need feedback so that they may identify what they do and don't understand.
Encourage students to reflect upon their learning.


Engaging students in reflection across the course of the semester with feedback can generate meaningful instructional "conversations" between teachers and students.
Help students shift their mindset about learning and intelligence.

Failure to a person with fixed mindset casts doubt on one’s “global permanent intelligence,” be avoided (Dweck, 2000, p. 27). A growth mindset person views failure as an indicator of a of skill or inadequate strategy used. This realization spurs the person to modify one’s strategy harder to master the skill. Failure is feedback of a particular moment in time not an indicator of permanent intelligence.

Why is This Important?

Students' prior knowledge influences how they filter and interpret what they are learning.


If their knowledge is accurate and robust as well as activated at the appropriate time, students will have a strong foundation to build upon for new knowledge. However, if that knowledge contains inaccuracies or is insufficient for the tasks they face, then it will most likely impede new learning.
Quizzing students frequently results in better understanding of complex material.

Would you like your students to remember what you teach them longer? Research provides insights as to how you might achieve this goal. For long-term retention, it is also important how and when you revisit that information. With repeated testing or quizzing, students are more likely to keep up with the readings and lectures and ultimately master the material.

Students' beliefs about their intelligence impacts whether they persist in a challenging course.

Dweck (2006) followed pre-med students enrolled in a chemistry class. She compared students with a fixed and growth mindset who performed poorly on the first exam. The fixed mindset students found it harder to study for the course and would miss class (self-handicapping behaviors) whereas the growth mindset students tended respond by increasing their effort and finding better study strategies that would work for them. In the end, a significantly higher percentage of growth mindset students who initially did poorly in the class went on to pass the class than their fixed mindset counterparts.

Ask "What do students need to know or be able to do in order to complete the assignment/task?"

Experts have acquired so much knowledge, skills, and experience that they have automatized steps and have exceptional pattern recognition skills that assist them during problem solving. These are the very skills that novices need to acquire to perform complex tasks or even identify what information in a problem is relevant.

Students have limited cogntive resources and attention when tackling complex tasks.


Cognitive Load refers to the total processing demands imposed upon a person while tackling a given task or set of tasks. If the task exceeds students' cognitive load then they will become frustrated and/or discouraged and lack motivation to engage in the assignment.

Explore More

Networked Brain

How Learning Works

Research-based insights from guest speaker Marsha Lovett , Carnegie Mellon University.

An drawing of a brain on a pink backgroud along with the word "Learning,"

Learning Experiences

UT Faculty and Guest Speakers share an influential learning experience that they had while undergraduates.

Woman practicing with a violin next to a grand piano.

Practice and Frequent Testing

Would you like your students to remember what you teach them longer? Research provides insights as to how me might achieve this goal.