Key Learning Concepts — Visualized

Phil Von Heydebreck
16 Dec 2019

While working through the literature on learning science and learning strategies, I frequently searched for good visualizations of the key concepts. Unfortunately, I was not always able to find what I was looking for. The images were often poor quality or contained errors. For whatever reason, I wasn’t happy with the images I was finding. So I started to make my own.

I already published the first two of them in a blog post about lifelong learning.

The next one I created was an overview of the different types of learning strategies that can be used to improve learning. There are many different strategies. The categorization into four types helps to identify what the aim of the different strategies is. Examples of the different learning strategies are listed in the bottom row.

The next one was about metacognition. Metacognition is an important concept in learning. “Meta” in this context means “about itself” — it’s self-referential. So metacognition means “cognition about cognition”. It is an awareness of one’s own thinking and learning process and an ability to influence that process.

Bloom’s taxonomy is a visualization of the different cognitive processes that occur during learning. It is very frequently depicted as a pyramid. However, the originators of the taxonomy did not envisage it that way. The pyramid is not ideal because it suggests that one cognitive process builds on the other, which is not necessarily what occurs during learning.

There are many versions of the forgetting curve. They all seem to be based on the insights of Hermann Ebbinghaus, who was a pioneer of the study of memory and tracked his ability to remember nonsense syllables. Many of the curves I saw seemed oversimplified, so I went back to Ebbinghaus’ original data. What Ebbinghaus’ measured was the time he needed to re-learn nonsense syllables after specific intervals. The graph shows the percentage of savings in time for him to re-learn them plotted over time. Ebbinghaus believed that the percentage savings indicated how many of the nonsense syllables had been retained in memory.

Learning researchers have found that practice is more effective is activities are mixed together randomly than if similar skills or concepts are practiced together as a group before moving on to the next. The baseball example is illustrative: a batter could practice hitting one fastball after another before moving on to practicing curveballs. Alternatively, the pitcher could throw a random mix of pitches to the batter. Researchers have shown that this mixing different skills or concepts leads to better learning — they call it interleaving.

Mindset theory suggests that a learner’s beliefs about his or her personal attributes can significantly influence learning outcomes. A growth mindset is a belief that effort can lead to improvement. Researchers believe that people with a growth mindset achieve better learning and performance than people with a fixed mindset.

The topic of goal orientation is related to mindsets. There are two main dimensions avoidance-approach and mastery-performance. Researchers have found that goal orientation can affect performance. Approach is striving to achieve a specific outcome. Approach tends to lead to better outcomes than avoidance or trying not to do worse. The main difference between mastery and performance goals is their point of reference. Mastery goals attempt to improve on one’s previous performance, while performance goals measure achievement relative to the performance of others.

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