Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Developmental progression of learning: Things for teachers to consider

active learning

Seungho Lee, Practical Project Based Active Learning, Creative Commons


It is important to build opportunities for connection and engagement for students.  In order to do this successfully, I make a continued effort to root my teaching in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Each piece of the course we create needs to be considered from the perspective of what research tells us about how people learn. From learning objectives, to learning activities, to assessment, teachers need to be asking themselves,

How can I best help my students in the process of learning?

It’s easiest to do this when you know some learning theory, because then you can ground your practice of teaching within that theory. The learning theory that I tend to use most often is Dee Fink’s (2003) model  for creating significant learning. I also use the book How Learning Works: 7 Research Based Principles for Smart Teaching to guide me as I think about how to best design learning experiences for my students.

What I love about Fink’s model is that it goes beyond the older cognitive taxonomy of the Bloom model and allows us to think about important aspects of learning that are more interpersonal and intrapersonal,  such as helping students learn how to learn and develop life skills that impact communication, relationships, and the ability to adapt to change. As we as teachers develop our courses and assignments, we should keep each of these types of learning in mind.

So, as I’m creating my courses, assignments, and assessments, I use a developmental process in which I consider the following:

  1. Learning Outcomes: What do I want my students to learn?
  2. Measurement: How will I know if they’ve met the outcome goal?
  3. Developmental Trajectory: How will I help them move toward that outcome?

I have found that when I keep this developmental progression in mind, I am able to help my students successfully achieve learning goals.

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