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Sticky Learning: How Neuroscience Supports Teaching That's Remembered
Date Reviewed: April 8, 2015
In many ways, Sticky Learning is all business. It has no traditional introductory or closing material and ends simply with a works cited list. This volume is divided into three major sections. The first section (composed of only chapter one) lays out the current landscape of education. In it, Inglis asks readers some basic pedagogical questions, such as what defines “effective learning” and how did we learn to teach. The second section (chapters two, three, and four) lay out a roadmap for where learning is headed.
Inglis argues in chapter two that there is a differentiation between teaching and learning. Teaching occurs when an instructor simply imparts knowledge; learning occurs when the students interact with the instructor and actively apply what they have been taught. In chapter three, Inglis moves from learning theory to brain studies. As with each chapter in this book, her discussion is marked by brevity. She offers a concise, easy to understand introduction to brain science research condensed from larger, more detailed volumes such as Brain Rules by John Medina (2008) or Learning and Memory by Marilee Sprenger (1999), both of which are cited in the chapter. The majority of the research comes from the work of noted biologist James Zull and is operationalized through David Kolb’s model for experiential learning. In chapter four, Inglis discusses the five “pathways to memory” and three major reasons why we have trouble remembering information. Again, most of the material in these chapters is a concise summation of what the reader can find in the books by Medina and Sprenger noted above.
In this reviewer’s opinion (one who has a limited working knowledge of the relationship between neuroscience and educational psychology), these two chapters alone are worth the price of the volume. After reading through these chapters, I was informed about the readily accepted correlation between neuroscience and educational psychology and also was empowered to integrate these theories into my own teaching. (I am already using Kolb’s theory, but now understand how to maximize it in my teaching.) The “Making It Stick” features that follow each content section provide reflective questions and practical applications which promote a “learn-do” environment for the reader to immediately assess the validity of Inglis’ arguments.
The final section (chapters five through eight) provide a challenge to take what Inglis has argued in the previous half of the book and apply it directly to classroom contexts. While chapters five and seven – both authored by Inglis – were helpful, I found that chapters six and eight cancelled each other out. Chapter six, by Nishioka, provides a response from one who has used these concepts in his classroom, as demonstrated by the real-life examples. Chapter eight, authored by Dawson, offers a case study of how one can apply the arguments and concepts set forth in the book. In my opinion, either one should have been chosen over the other, or Nishioka’s reflections should have been included in the larger treatment rather than as a stand-alone chapter. This is, however, my only real complaint with this volume. I especially appreciated the websites and QR codes to unlock additional content that are scattered throughout the book. Overall, this is an important book for educators at any level to read and wrestle with as they continue to seek the best ways to educate their students.
Transformative Learning and Identity
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2015
The subject of theology and religion is related to the human desire for and experience of transformative inner experience. Contemporary theological education tends to especially draw students who are internally motivated for their own transformation or for facilitating other’s transformation through their ministry. In this sense, Transformative Learning and Identity touches upon the DNA of theological and religious education.
This book is one of the fruits of the author’s research on transformative learning, which developed from another of his books, How We Learn (London, U.K.: Routledge, 2007),a comprehensive account of general learning theory. In Transformative Learning and Identitythe author reviews the theoretical development of the concept of transformative learning through a survey of knowledge and research to “understand and explain how the most rewarding and far-reaching human learning processes take place and why and how they have become so important in today’s world” (xiii). As such, this is not a self-help book with pedagogical strategies.
What the author means by “today’s world” carries the foundational assumptions of this book. He calls this contemporary context late-modernity which includes an economic environment that allows upward mobility among classes heavily dependent on the performance of individuals. For him, this is the context of the individualism from which the quest for identity rises. Individualization provides the possibility “to create one’s totally own existence in the very best and personal way – if only one was able to manage all the many life situations and make the right choices all throughout” (62). With such an ideal of individual choices, the responsibility of one’s own accomplishment of the ideal rests on individual will and capacity. Transformation then becomes a crucial task for individuals to accomplish. Illeris’ main conceptualization follows from Jack Mezirow’s understanding of transformative learning – a process of meaning creation, of which elements like individual experience, critical reflection, dialogues, holistic orientation, awareness of context, and authentic relationships are important building blocks. Using this foundation, Illeris surveys the thoughts of several scholars to further exploration of transformative learning. After a brief survey of psychoanalytic theories of change and a cursory survey of emancipating pedagogical theories including Paulo Freire’s critical theory, and one feminist approach developed in the 1980s, he surveys the theories of Yrjö Engeström, Robert Kegan, Peter Jarvis, and Mark Tennant. Through his analysis of the development of various theories in Part I, he concludes that transformative learning “comprises all learning that implies change in the identity of the learner” (40). Thus, he devotes Part II to identity development through the theories of Erik Erikson, Thomas Ziehe, Kenneth Gergen, Mark Tennant, Etienne Wenger, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and Zygmunt Bauman. In Part III, he examines transformative learning from different standpoints such as developmental stages, the processes of progressive and regressive transformation, motivation and identity defense, personality and competence, and its habitus as in school, work, individual, and society.
The author’s intent is to build a more authoritative definition of transformative learning through a theoretical survey of the history of the concept. Along with the survey, his understanding of regressive transformative learning is an important contribution. Regressive transformative learning happens when expected progressive transformative learning is frustrated but still results in identity change. When it happens simultaneously with another progressive transformative learning experience, it can result in identity transformation.
There are several points that may need to be augmented to bring out this book’s full potential for religious and theological education. As Illeris writes from his location in Denmark, despite some experience in Teachers College, Columbia University, this work seems to mostly assume a middleclass European or European American context. Hence, it needs to be translated with intercultural sensitivity to find relevance in the context of diversity of cultures, power dynamics, socio-economic classes, and genders in the twenty-first century higher education. A discussion about emancipatory transformation and deeper reflection on critical pedagogies like those of Freire and McLaren would help translate this work into theological school contexts. Another useful dialogue would involve the topic of spirituality. From a Christian point of view, transformative learning can be conceptualized as involving the spiritual engagement of a person.
This book is a helpful theoretical resource for those who want to conceptualize impactful teaching and learning experience. I recommend exploring this book with a theological lens in order to dialogue with the different theories surveyed: it could yield helpful dialogical points that could advance the search for realization of transformative learning in theological school contexts.
Learning Patterns in Higher Education: Dimensions and Research Perspectives
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2015
Researchers and teachers will find this book a useful resource on student learning and enhancement. Based on twelve international collaborative research units’ seminars sponsored by the Scientific Research Network of the Research Foundation Flanders at Antwerp in December 2011, the volume reports empirical research and theories on educational practice to support studies of learning pattern development in higher education. Thirteen of fifteen essays are multi-authored, and the contributors are mostly higher educational specialists from Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, and Spain. A few essayists are from Ireland and United Kingdom. Though written from the European continent, many of the learning concepts, strategies, and patterns – cognitive strategies, factors for learning patterns, and learning-learner characteristics – are transposable in higher education. A few essays explore pedagogy in global contexts. One article in particular compares multidimensionality and learning differences between students from the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Spain and Latin America, and Hong Kong.
Six chapters in Part I examine dimensions of learning patterns. Given the twenty-first century’s multifaceted learning environment, educators face the challenge of presenting learning integratively and creatively so as to motivate learners in their respective contexts and learning patterns. The authors claim that individual learner-oriented approaches and student subgroup orientations in learners’ cultures affect learning presage, perceptions, processes, patterns, and outcomes. The book claims that research continues to validate self-directedness among mature adult learners amid other reasons for facilitating effective adult learning.
Nine chapters in Part II engage aspects of measuring student learning patterns and development. Core measurement issues include (a) learners’ academic achievements, (b) motivations and cognition on measuring achievements, (c) student teaching experience as a process for their deeper learning, (d) transition from higher education into the workforce and professional service, and much more. Teachers may be interested to discover that learners’ self-confidence and self-directedness are crucial to inspire their performance. Even so, perceived workload, task complexity, working memory capacity, and attention span directly affect learners’ degrees of engagement. The effectiveness of a pedagogical mode – whether it is lecture-based, case-based, an immediate mixed-learning model, or a gradual mixed-learning model – will depend on the student’s motivation and learning profile.
The empirical settings and the theories presented are not directed at the teaching of religion and theology. Students of religious studies are not among the human subjects identified in the reported empirical investigations. Thus, for Teaching Theology & Religion’s readership, the book is not as relevant as other edited volumes including: Andrea Sterk’s Religion, Scholarship, and Higher Education (University of Notre Dame Press, 2002); Richard Devine, Joseph Favazza, and Michael McLain’s From Cloister To Commons: Concepts and Models for Service Learning in Religious Studies (Stylus, 2002); Sherry Hoppe and Bruce Speck’s Identifying and Preparing Academic Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 2004); and David Smith and James Smith’s Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning (Eerdmans, 2011). Several essays in Learning Patterns in Higher Education allude to the importance of learners’ contexts for constructing effective pedagogical models. However, the book does not examine the many sociopolitical aspects that have impacted learning (for comparison, see Liam Gearon and Sue Brindley’s MasterClass in Religious Education, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).
Nonetheless, this book is well researched. Readers will profit from its extensive treatment of learning theories, and it will enhance an educator’s overall teaching competence. Educational psychology and theories of human development are embedded in many of these theoretical explorations, and therefore, the findings in this book may be transferrable to the practice of religious studies or theology.
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn is an accessible volume that reinforces the concept of “visible learning” previously presented in Hattie’s 2009 Visible Learning (VLT) with supporting research and interpretations from the fields of education, sociology, and neuroscience. While some of the supporting research is new, the authors also harken to longstanding, now standard, studies on various topics. The writing is concise (most of the 31 chapters are about six pages) and the organization of the book allows it to be used as a compendium on topics related to learning and teaching.
The book is organized using nine overarching principles that connect learning theory and teaching under three main sections: (1) learning within classrooms, (2) selected topics in learning theory, and (3) a theme of “know thyself” (self-esteem, competence, self-knowledge, and metacognition). Along the way Hattie and Yates address trendy but dubious ideas in education, such as learning styles, multitasking, and uncritical ideas about instructional technology and the Internet.
This volume is among those that make the shift from a focus on the teacher and on the act of teaching, to the learner, the processes whereby learning actually happens, and impediments to learning. The working assumption is “achievement in schools is maximized when teachers see learning through the eyes of students, and when students see learning through the eyes of themselves as teachers” (xi). The value in this perspective is helping teachers understand the experience of learning on the part of the learner. Understanding and appreciating what goes on “inside the head of the learner,” can help instructors make learning “visible.” This means that teachers can design learning experiences to match how students actually learn, not how they may assume their students learn. The goal is to help teachers act with informed intention.
While there is not much new in terms of learning theory, the book has value to theological educators in several regards. First, it is a good primer on pedagogy and current research on learning for instructors who do not have a background in learning theory. Second, the book provides motivational reinforcement for the importance of making the switch from teacher-focused instruction to student-centered learning. The book does so in a balanced manner, citing supportive research for both the importance of the teacher’s role and behavior in the classroom (effective use of direct instruction, the role of feedback, and so forth) and the necessity of focusing on student attention and engagement in the process of learning (cognitive load, attention, memory, motivation, and how knowledge and skills are acquired by learners). Third, several chapters touch on issues of concern particularly important to the theological and religious studies contexts. For example, Chapter 4 deals with the personality of the teacher and trust; Chapter 21 explores research and myths about students as “digital natives” and the impact of instructional technology and the Internet (Chapter 22 is titled, “Is the Internet turning us into shallow thinkers?”). Part 3, Know Thyself, focuses on the affective dynamics of teaching and learning, an issue which is consistently undervalued but is critical to matters of belief, faith, and self-understanding (formation).
This is a worthwhile and useful volume. It covers the field of what makes teachers effective in the classroom. Its strength is in (1) making often complex concepts accessible in both writing and the format of the book; (2) providing balanced, research-informed coverage of concepts related to the complex acts of teaching and learning, and (3) helping teachers and instructors make the shift from over-focusing on the teaching act to appreciation and understanding of the process of learning as experienced by students.
Learning to Learn: International Perspectives from Theory and Practice
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
“Learning to learn” is a strong and appellative concept for people involved and interested in education. The book’s title suggests a continuous search for an appropriate and practical understanding of the meaning of “learning to learn,” and its significance in the practice at various levels. “Learning to learn” is viewed as a holistic and dynamic concept that encompasses relationships with learning, reasoning, knowledge, consciousness, critical thinking, working memory, education self-awareness, motivation, lifelong learning, life-wide learning, inference, systems of thinking, spiritual matters, social heritages, cultural contexts, and “natural learning” as an ordinary activity with others. The concept is also related to fields of knowledge such as education, psychology, sociology, and so forth, and it is presented as a paradigm in continuous construction.
This book is strategically divided in two main parts; (1) theory and (2) international research and practices. Seeking for a comprehensive view of education, the first part engages the reader in the concept of “learning to learn” from a theoretical and philosophical perspective, bringing together an extensive list of definitions, visualizations, and considerations related to the subject. The second part offers research based on nine case studies showing how “learning to learn” works in the practical arena in schools, curriculums, educational polices, and teachers’ pedagogical practices. However, even though the book does not deal directly with specific pedagogical strategies in the classroom, the discussion offers good insights and approaches that can enhance the practice of teaching. This aspect is further advanced by the authors’ emphases in explaining the methodologies used in the research.
“As an organizing concept in education. . . learning to learn” not only deals with scientific matters concerning learning, but also with curriculum, pedagogy, and educational policies within the politics of a particular context (xv). Written from an international perspective, the book takes into account the educational experiences and practices from a few European countries, China (Hong Kong), Australia and New Zealand, and considers one example from the United States. Nonetheless, the authors’ intentions are clear − to influence and offer relevant applications for an international understanding of what “learning to learn” means for a global world. That said, additional approaches from Africa and Latin American countries are strongly needed.
Learning to Learn can serve as something of a paradigm for excellence in education and learning. It can also function as a helpful text for reflecting on the meta-competencies required to be fully efficient in contemporary vocational contexts. This meta-competency includes a strategic competence for lifelong learning (93). The challenge of this discussion for religious and theological educators is evident -- it requires educators to examine the applications of “learning to learn” in their particular educational practices.
Educators will benefit from reading this book and may feel motivated to read the extended literature references in the book, particularly those concerning recent texts advancing new theoretical approaches on this topic. Furthermore, educators will benefit from the rich research data discussed in the theoretical and practical sections. This material represents an excellent source for advancing new research, while at the same time offering useful applications for educators’ practices in their individual higher educational contexts.