Monday, January 20, 2014

Visible learning and the science of how we learn - summary of relevant chapters

Book summary of ‘visible learning and the science of how welearn’ by Professors John Hattie and Gregory Yates (2014) published by Routledge.

This book came up via Google Scholar, just before the Christmas break. I ordered via book depository and it arrived just in time for me to bring along with me on a walking holiday to Golden Bay. NZ summer weather brings the usual mix of rain or showery episodes interspersed with fine, warm days. I dipped into the book whenever we were house-bound by rain.

Back at work, I have worked through the chapters I bookmarked as ones of relevance to vocational education. The topics discussed in the book are related to factors assisting student learning. These factors were identified through a meta-analysis of over 800 quantitative meta-studies. The factors are reported in Hattie’s original book ‘Visible learning’ and extended on for application by teachers in a second book ‘Visible learning forteachers’, summarised in my blog last year.

The factors that assist student learning are derived from studies undertaken in the formalised school education sector from mainly English speaking countries Therefore, the factors are assumed to carry over to adult and vocational education.

Visible learning and the science of how we learn, consists of 31 short chapters organised into three parts: Learning within classrooms, learning foundations and ‘know thyself’. Each chapter is written to be ‘stand alone’ and consists of summaries of relevant theories, study guide questions and reference notes. This structure makes the chapters accessible to students of teaching and laypersons interested in learning more about how people learn. Each reader will find topics of interest amongst the 31 chapters. 

From the perspective of vocational education,  the first section ‘learning within classrooms’ could be useful as ‘conversation starters’ or ‘pre-reading’ for use by teacher educators. The chapters of most interest are:
Chapter 1, ‘why don’t students like learning at school’ – learners’ interests may not always be synchronised with formalised school systems’ outcomes.
Chapter 2 ‘is knowledge an obstacle to teaching? – yes. Experts find it difficult to unravel their tacit knowledge.
Chapter 7 ‘teaching for automaticity in basic academic skill’ – undertaking sufficient practice to move new, ‘foundational’ skills to becoming ‘automatic’ opens up room for progressive learning of complex skills and more difficult conceptualisations.
Chapter 8 ‘role of feedback’ – always important in all aspects of learning. This chapter provides good overview.
Chapters 9 – 11 – ‘acquiring complex skills through social modelling and explicit teaching’ and 3 chapters on expertise are ALL relevant. These four chapters provide good summaries and examples plus up to date reference notes for follow up. As will all the reference notes suggested through the book, most of the references are very pertinent, although some are also academic journal articles and will require some working on.

Part 2 covers a range of ‘learning foundations’. Of most use are the chapters on knowledge learning (chapters 13 – 18).  Common myths of teaching and learning are also addressed, critiqued and debunked as appropriate. These include:
Chapter 19 ‘analysing students’ style of learning’ now found to have very little empirical evidence  and so NOT advocated. Similar finding also for ‘music and its impact on learning’ in chapter 23.
Chapters 20 – 22 also critique recent studies related to young peoples’ exposure and use of technology. All of the following are found to be myths ‘ multitasking’, digital natives and the internet turning us into shallow thinkers. With the last fallacy, it is how use of internet is approaches which is important.
The last section ‘ know thyself’ are useful for teachers to better understand themselves and their learners. Reading these chapters with either the self (teacher) or learner perspective ‘hat’ on yields some insights. There are chapters on confidence (24), self-enhancement (25), achieving self control (26), neuroscience of the smile (27)and being a social chameleon (28).

The last three chapters are of more relevance to vocational educators.
Inattentional blindness and paying attention (chapter 29), thinking fast and slow (chapter 30) and ‘the IKEA effect’ (chapter 31).  Chapters 29 and 31 provide good overviews of neuroscience work on our conscious and unconscious brain. The advantages and disadvantages of having much of our decision making being automated are discussed with relevance to learning. The last chapter discusses why we put more value on learning when we put in effort, i.e. actually build or construct a physical artefact as an outcome of our learning.

All in, the book is a good resource for teacher educators and educators with some background on the learning sciences. Some chapters will be daunting and require some scaffolding for people who come into teaching with limited understanding of how learning works. The language used in the book is generally conversational but the contents are still sufficiently academic. 

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