Every Learner is the Same

This is the third article in a series of 5 where I work to develop my philosophy of education. What follows should not be taken as gospel, yet, I believe it should be taken seriously.

A philosophy of education in 5 steps.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

Everyone learns the same, roughly. This is controversial, like other aspects of my teaching philosophy. Yet, I believe it to be true, in a broad sense. No matter your views of education’s purpose, or how we measure it, learning is ultimately about knowing and doing. Educators differ over which is more important, yet few argue that only one is important.

Cognitive science has shown that, at a fundamental level learning is about the connections neurons make. When neurons fire in the same or similar patterns, learning is strengthened regardless of whether the idea generated by the firing neurons is actually true. For example, if a child practices 2+2=9, the more these neurons fire in that particular pattern, the more ingrained this learning will be.

As educators we can take advantage of this by using retrieval practice and spaced repetition. When students use retrieval practice, they are recalling the facts and or concepts, thus, strengthening that memory. When students use spaced repetition, we are taking advantage of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve as they recall the information again and again over time. Another effective strategy is to combine retrieval practice and spaced repetition with elaboration. Elaboration is when students make connections (identify relationships) between different facts and concepts.

The result is that the neurons responsible for the practiced knowledge/skill fire more and more in the same and similar patterns. And the memory gets strengthened.

As far as I am aware, what I wrote above is essentially a universal truth. I do not believe there are any exceptions to this rule. Different people may learn at different rates and have different limitations due to cognitive abilities/disabilities, background knowledge, and motivation, but the process of learning will be the same for all and all can benefit from instruction based on sound research.