Five Goals of Successful Learning

Note Card 2

By Jim Porto

As long as I have been on the faculty at UNC, I and my colleagues have discussed how to improve learning. There is much debate in our academic field now about “competencies,” a term which I object to (we should be fostering masteries not mere competencies). Items 1 and 2 are our traditional, explicit goals. We want students to learn factual knowledge, relevant conceptual models, and a set of useful skills. The competency debate is about which knowledge, models, and skills we want students to learn. Many have put forward competing competency lists, which has caused confusion for curriculum planners. I have my own list on a note card, which I will post later.

Items 3,4,5 are perhaps the most important components of successful learning but we rarely design courses to achieve them. Knowing what we do not know, as Socrates observed, is the better part of wisdom. But this goal is only achieved when students have reached the “expert” level in a subject, not the “competent” level. It’s very difficult to achieve this in the 2-4 years that students attend our programs.

Knowing how to learn may be taught through a research course and is often the intended by-product of thesis-writing, but we could do much better in helping students develop reliable tools to learn on their own.

Knowing how to re-learn is a goal that is not on our radar screen. Yet it may be the most important of these 5 goals. We have faulty memories and unless we use a skill often, either conceptual or procedural, we will forget it. One of our successful teaching faculty once told me that he had to re-learn his course every year because he forgot half his material over the summer. The kinds of things we can do to help students re-learn are to encourage them to keep journals, to give them tools to organize their notes, and to make sure they have only the key textbooks in their fields. The better organized students are with their material, the faster they will be able to re-learn it. But this is not enough, we need to develop more technological tools to achieve this goal so that education of the future will be more effective.

Published in: on October 4, 2007 at 11:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think those are rather traditional knowledge based goals that might be appropriate in an educational institution but really won’t tranfer very well to a business environment. How about some of these goals?

    1. To avoid spending time on anything that you won’t remember the next day or next week.

    2. To be able to immediately use what you’ve learned to do something new or do something better.

    3. To reduce the time it takes to learn and use something new by spending enough time on practice and experience.

    Steve Rosenbaum
    Author Learning Paths (Pfeiffer 2004)

  2. Steve, these are excellent additional goals. In trying to figure out how to translate “academic” learning to practice, it seems to me that new knowledge has to be translated into the hundreds of decisions we make every day. This requires (1) Effective Time management, which you also identify; (2) Good memory skills, which can be improved; and (3) Practice making decisions with the new knowledge. Thanks for the unexpected post. I was only posting these thoughts to help me remember and articulate them for myself. Your comments have been an added bonus!

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