How can we see learning?

Sorry to disappoint you but we can’t see learning. Which is a real shame because it would make the job of the teacher much easier if e could know that the words we have just used; the diagrams we have just shown and the modelling we have just demonstrated have lead to changes in our children’s brains. But we can’t.

There is another problem, several other problems actually. The problem is one of time. We need to say what time scale we are checking. How long is the information, just ‘learned’ retained for and for how long is it reliably accessible for.

i want to define a version of learning which makes the assumption that the thing being learned is not just held in short term memory but has moved into long term memory. Once it is in long term memory then I would say it is learned. (But that is not the whole story!)  I’d say that 5 minutes would be enough time. 50724. My wife, coincidently, jas just asked me to remember the electricity meter reading. She will ask me what it was in a couple of minutes when she has to put it into the electricity company’s web site. I am also typing so the number will be lost from my short term memory rapidly as I cannot type and refresh my short term memory. So I typed it into this blog. She typed in the number she had remembered and then asked me to repeat it. I just read it back to her. There is no way i have learned that number. I have not transferred it to long term memory.

So one way of checking learning is to see if the thing being learned is can be recalled after, say, 5 minutes. Of course we still do not know it has been learned as we cannot see learning inside the brain. We would be asking for some sort of performance from the child to see if the learning was there, in the brain’s long term memory.

If it was I would say that learning had happened.

And if a performance, say a test or use of the learned material in some way, indicates the learning is accurate away we go.

The issues are now how well the material is stored and how securely the learned material can be retrieved. The retrieval strength. Will we be able to recall the material at some time in the future. It is not, I believe, possible to have any idea of this for an individual. But we do know ways in which we can make the retrieval of the material at some later date more likely.

How we learn stuff so that the material is stored securely and how we make retrieval more likely is for a future blog.

But, and that’s a big but, there is more – of course!

How about in, say, 20 minutes? Is the learning still there? We would need to


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s