Principles of Teaching and Learning

Below is a list of seven research-based principles of learning based on the book “How Learning Works” (Ambrose, et al., 2010) for you to consider as you design and teach your course. Along with each principle is a brief description and some teaching application examples. To learn more about these principles or to explore ways to integrate these principles into your course(s), we welcome you to schedule a consultation with a CTAL staff member. In addition, the book “How Learning Works” may be borrowed from CTAL’s library. 

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Student’s prior knowledge can help or hinder learning

Description

Students come into our courses with knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes gained in other courses and through daily life. As students bring this knowledge to bear in our classrooms, it influences how they filter and interpret what they are learning. If students’ prior knowledge is robust and accurate and activated at the appropriate time, it provides a strong foundation for building new knowledge. However, when knowledge is inert, insufficient for the task, activated inappropriately, or inaccurate, it can interfere with or impede new learning. To apply this principle, consider the following teaching techniques:

Teaching Applications
  • Administer a “no-stakes” quiz at the beginning of the course to get a sense of their knowledge of prerequisite facts and concepts, an possibly uncover some misconceptions
  • Use class activities to activate relevant prior knowledge 
  • Explicitly link new material to material covered earlier in the course or to prerequisite courses
  • Use analogies and real-world examples that connect to students’ everyday knowledge

How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know

Description

Students come into our courses with knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes gained in other courses and through daily life. As students bring this knowledge to bear in our classrooms, it influences how they filter and interpret what they are learning. If students’ prior knowledge is robust and accurate and activated at the appropriate time, it provides a strong foundation for building new knowledge. However, when knowledge is inert, insufficient for the task, activated inappropriately, or inaccurate, it can interfere with or impede new learning. To apply this principle, consider the following teaching techniques:

Teaching Applications
  • Administer a “no-stakes” quiz at the beginning of the course to get a sense of their knowledge of prerequisite facts and concepts, an possibly uncover some misconceptions
  • Use class activities to activate relevant prior knowledge 
  • Explicitly link new material to material covered earlier in the course or to prerequisite courses
  • Use analogies and real-world examples that connect to students’ everyday knowledge