S.5 – How People Learn


Session 5: What do We Know About How People Learn?

Session Overview

Conceptions of teaching are often highly personalized constructions that are a composite of individual knowledge and beliefs, as well as assumptions about teaching and learning. Whether these conceptions are openly articulated or remain tacit, they are assembled through personal experiences of teaching, appropriated through interactions in a range of learning contexts, and hold considerable sway over faculty members’ decision making and practice of teaching. Generating greater awareness about individual conceptions of teaching and learning supports development of the skills and attitudes associated with being a critically reflective practitioner. This session will provide the opportunity to engage with the variety of beliefs and perspectives we hold about learning, explore the underlying rationale for these beliefs, and compare them with what is known from theory and research on learning.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Identify and articulate beliefs about learning, and discuss how they shape teaching practice.
  • Identify key findings from research on learning and discuss the extent to which this knowledge can be used to enhance education.

Key Questions

  • How can / should the research on learning inform teaching and the process of education?
  • To what extent do individual beliefs and conceptions of learning, shape teaching practices? What kinds of activities can support examination of one’s beliefs?
  • Is there value in examining one’s beliefs about learning in order to enhance teaching?


1) Individual, small group and whole class brainstorm of views on how people learn (discuss / debrief)

2) What do we know about how people learn?

  • Brain Rules (John Medina)
  • Private Universe (Annenberg Foundation)
  • Key findings from HPL literature (John Bransford, et. al.)


1) Complete suggested readings.  Continue to read your selected book.

2) Synthesize ideas from readings and class discussion and post to your Learning Journal.


Suggested Readings

M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino (1999): How People Learn (Chapter 2)
“Ask the Cognitive Scientist: What Will Improve Students’ Memory?”,Willingham