Learning by Doing

By Mary Morse, Ph.D.

When you think back to what you remember learning in any formal education setting, I am betting you remember things like field trips, interactive projects, or lessons on topics related to your personal interests. We need something to attach or relate new knowledge to in order to remember it. We need to be able to use this knowledge and to apply it to something that is meaningful to us. When we are learning through an activity that engages us, it allows us to apply the knowledge, and to test it and maybe even create new knowledge through experimentation. Examples of this type of learning can be seen in the use of online resources for self-directed learning and in business learning models.

My son has been teaching himself to do flips and other Freerunning moves by watching YouTube videos and following blogs. His progress has been amazing. He reads to find a trick he wants to learn, watches videos, and then goes outside and practices. When he encounters a problem, he goes back and reads, asks questions, and re-watches videos. Then more practice. He also verbally explains to me what he is doing and what he needs to work on. This process is textbook learning theory in action!

Mary’s son in action.

An important goal for many business training workshops is to get participants to use the concepts that they learn, in their own workplace, within 24 hours. Experience has shown that if new skills are not used in the workplace within 24 hours, they will most likely not be implemented at all. In the training industry, the 10/20/70 model is commonly used as a guideline for employee training: 10% of an employee’s job skills are obtained from formal learning from workshops and formal training sessions, 20% is obtained from informal coaching and interactions with others, and 70% is obtained from on the job experience. I wonder how effective this strategy would be in the classroom.

In a perfect world, all learning would take place in the setting where it is used. In the classroom, often the best we can do is answer the “So what? Why do I need to learn this?” with lessons that provide interaction, stimulate emotional attachment, and create interest. Techniques to accomplish this include discussing concepts in relation to our community and allowing students to approach a project through the lens of their own interests. Involving community members in classroom activities and using local community resources can help students attach meaning to new knowledge. Using online resources supports students in pursuing their personal interests as they work on classroom projects and assignments. These techniques allow students to see value and application in what they are learning.

Mary is a speaker, consultant, and writer with a focus on gifted education and on the importance of parental and community involvement in the education of our children. She homeschools her son and teaches with and helps coordinate her local homeschool teaching cooperative program.

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