In an astronomy class that I’m taking this semester, they took time out of our lesson on the solar system to teach us about Levels of Learning. They provided us with a chart (see picture) and explained to us how we understand more based on how high up on the pyramid we go with our learning process. I thought it was fascinating and shared it with many of my friends and coworkers, having conversations about the “flaws” in our lower education system because they focus so much on teaching at the lowest level of the pyramid. I was immediately impressed by how much my classes at Penn State have utilized some of the higher levels of learning. From a film class last semester to my psychology classes this semester, the teachers seem to really understand how to gear the lessons towards helping us reach the highest level of understanding.
When we learned about ways to study more effectively (see list) in order to encode and retrieve from our Long Term Memory better, I was immediately reminded of the pyramid and started to notice similarities. Step 6, Avoiding “illusions of learning” reminded me of the lowest level of learning: Remember. We sometimes mistake remembering for understanding. While flashcards and highlighting can be useful tools for remembering and learning, they are only the beginning and need to be a springboard for reaching higher levels.
Step 2 (Generate and test) falls along most of the levels of learning and is one of the most successful methods for encoding information. By teaching the subject to someone else, you are generating your own material and reinforcing your understanding of it. Similarly, if you can use the information in another class or context (as I’m doing here), it fortifies that information in your brain.
The peak of the pyramid is labeled Create, and it falls into both the Elaborate and the Generate and Test steps. By using the knowledge that you have gained to create something, you are cementing it into your LTM in the same ways discussed previously. However, you are also making it yours, which will make it more relatable to you and will help with the encoding and retrieval. For example, when I first saw the pyramid and wanted to explain it to people, I had to search for the lesson. In the process of writing this blog entry, I have found myself able to reference it in my mind without having to look at the picture every time.
What I have been most impressed by is how universally these processes have been used by all of the professors at Penn State. The layout of the lessons, the repetition of the readings, the periodic questions and quizzes, the nature of the assignments, and the interaction with our classmates have all been set up to nurture these psychological processes. After a long break from school and returning last semester, I found myself excited by how much I was learning, and how much I was retaining and then able to share with people afterwards. At the time, I thought perhaps I was simply at a point in my life where I was more willing to learn. Although that is probably part of the equation, I now understand that PSU also creates an environment that fosters both memory and learning in tune with how our brain works.
And for that, I say THANK YOU!
Goldstein, E. B., (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, And Everyday Experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. (Original work published 2005)
Kregenow, Julia. “Lesson 4: Our Solar System.” Elementary Astronomy. Pennsylvania State University. 04 Feb. 2014. Reading.