There are many variables to consider when making curriculum decisions. A critical one is deciding if the curriculum decision is consistent with what we know about how college students learn. Will the action we propose result in better learning for our students? We are fortunate to be building curriculum at a time when our knowledge about how people learn is growing very quickly. Understanding how people learn and using accepted principles of learning as “decision screens” will help us make more effective curriculum decisions.
Those who hold a constructivist view of learning believe that we build our own knowledge and understanding of the world. We do this by reflecting on and making sense of our experiences, constantly linking new experiences to what we already know so that our “mental models” are constantly changing.
Howard Gardner is reported to have said, “Don’t ask, how smart I am. Ask, how am I smart?” We know now that people learn many different ways. Keeping this in mind as we design learning experiences and build curriculum enriches learning for all. This site provides an overview of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, tips and resources for its use.
Adult Learning Principles
Although there is some dispute over whether or not adult learning really is any different than learning at any age, we do know that adults bring with them a wealth of experience that influences new learning. Current adult educators have drawn on many different views of learning to identify helpful principles that support adult learning.
Another older article with messages that are relevant to today’s learners. This article by Ron and Susan Zemke originally appeared in Innovation Abstracts. It details “30 things we know for sure” about adult learners. Included in this list are 14 items specifically linked to curriculum design.
We know that we all learn differently and that each student will have his/her own preferred way of perceiving and making sense of the world around them. Different learning style inventories address different variables. Knowing some of these variables can help us to design curriculum that we support all learners. Solomon and Felder have created a Learning Style Index that can be taken (without charge) online. VARK (visual, auditory, read/write, kinesthetic) identifies how we like to take in information.
David Kolb was one of the early developers of a learning style inventory. It was closely linked to his view of experiential learning. The Prof’s Resource site at Algonquin College has some information on learning styles.