Can we really call it learning?


If a student holds on to something she read, heard, or did in class just long enough to regurgitate it back on an assessment but has little to no memory of it a few weeks later, can we really call it ‘learning?’

How much of what students ‘learn’ in school falls into this category?

Image credit: forget it, fake is the new real

6 Responses to “Can we really call it learning?”

  1. Hi! I believe this is not considered learning although, as a Senior student, I am guilty of this. You are right Mr. McLeod, too much of what students are learning falls into this category. My professor, Dr. Strange, of my educational media course calls this type of learning “burp-back education. ” In order to curb this style of learning , teachers should always include a project-based learning assignment. This will help students have a better knowledge of the class topic. When the test is given, they are not just memorizing notes to pass, but they are answering questions based off the project.

  2. Memorization is a key skill in learning. Having memorized multiplication facts or dividing rational numbers was key in my math fluency. Not all rote and drill learning is “burp back education”.

    That said, effective teachers can lecture and require memorization for a test–students will integrate that knowledge into their own worldviews/schemas and apply it. If the information is meaningless to one person they will forget it, but for one who it carries meaning, it will be remembered. My brother learned William Blake poetry as I did and forgot it all–probably got a decent test grade. For me, I can quote it ten years later because it spoke to me. I think it is simple minded to only promote constructivist method as the “right way” to learn. Some of my most enjoyable college classes were via direct learning in a lecture hall as I integrated the professors information into my own imagination. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Project based learning is now being forced down the throats of teachers who sometimes realize that this isn’t always the best method for certain subjects.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I don’t think anyone’s arguing against memorization. I think we are arguing that if it’s forgotten just a few weeks later, it wasn’t really memorized or learned. It was just held barely long enough to satisfy some assessment requirement and we’re fooling ourselves if we pretend otherwise.

    Regarding your comment about PBL, for which subject(s) do you think hands-on, active, problem-solving is not a good learning method?

  4. PBL or “discovery learning” seems to have taken on different definitions lately. I’ll try to be clear about what I think works and does not work. There are many variables at play that include the talent of the teacher and small vs large classroom settings. PBL works quite well in Science and Social Studies where questions and investigations can take place in teams. It has been my experience that discussions and lectures seem to work best in Language Arts. Math is where constructivist method is quite a problem. Various research studies have shown direct learning is better at achieving math fluency and mastery. With elementary children, I think projects such as creating a store to practice counting money is effective at reinforcing real world application but only after rote practice of math facts. I think that “discovery math” that requires children to draw endless circles and count blocks is tedious and confusing to many kids who already can count effectively using numbers and mental math . I also think that the discovery learning asking for lattices and such is creating frustration and confusion–especially in large classroom settings with teachers who are confused themselves. Constructivist word problems in the elementary grades ask children to reason abstractly–the average child cannot do this until the developmental age of 12. The data is there to show that constructivist math isn’t as wonderful and effective as idealists would like to believe. (See ERIC database: “constructivist math effectiveness”…results are 50/50…not enough to convince us to make the entire US conform to this method.) We are creating a generation of kids who cry when they do their math homework because well-meaning academics want every child to perform like privileged kids in small private school settings. We need to conduct large studies in diverse settings by neutral parties to determine if in the “real world” this method is causing lower/higher math comprehension and if the anecdotal stories of emotional distress are in fact, measurable.

  5. Hi! I have taught high school math for 11 years and I’m really enjoying teaching geometry this school year. I often ask myself the question that you posed as we begin to approach “testing season.” Over the years, I’ve found that students genuinely “learn” by having multiple entry points to certain topics. This year (for example), we are doing units by introducing definitions and morphology, doing constructions and discovery, applying algebraic formulas, learning postulates and theorems, and finally proving what we have learned with different forms of proofs. We did this with fundamental geometry, then with lines and segments, and now with triangles. Next, we are attacking quadrilaterals. Even though geometry is tough, by using a circular learning model, my students have begun to make connections with the formulas since they have seen them multiple times in different units. We employ algebraic thinking, summarizing, discovery, and hands-on learning in order to develop mastery. I don’t think that we live in a world where one way of instruction will deliver the results that we need. In the real world, we receive information in multiple ways (electronic, verbal, auditory, visual, etc.) so as educators, I think we should present AND ASSESS learning in different ways. I love the data from standardized tests, but I also feel that portfolios and PBL should also play a part in assessing learning.

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