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The Nature of Learning

In many schools, the curriculum is organized into sequential, neatly divided units. There’s nothing wrong about this, and in fact, there is much that is useful about this, but we must recognize that students do not learn knowledge or skills that remain with them for the long-term that way. It is very tempting to teach our courses this way, and most of us do. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but we must be wary of conditioning students to “load” and “unload” information in a cycle of repeated test-prepping and test-taking where students earn the good grades without actually doing any long-term learning.

There is a better alternative: teaching students to engage in a process of continuously learning new things and incorporating them into our existing paradigms, thereby growing our enduring understanding of the world.

The nature of human learning is based on multiple connections and organizing new knowledge and skills into what we already know about the world, and exercising that new understanding on multiple occasions. That is how we create the long-term neural connections that last long after the chapter test is over. Like success, learning is not linear. It is probably more accurately depicted by the squiggly line on the right in the figure below:


Our case studies are designed to recognize this reality. We create case studies that enable students to make neural connections between multiple topics in several different directions, and we revisit topics that have been previously learned over and over by providing students opportunities to strengthen their previously learned skills with different scenarios and data sets.

By doing this, students will embed their knowledge and skills into their long-term memory bank and be able to quickly recall and apply their knowledge and skills when they need it, both on standardized tests taken several months after they first learned the content and far more importantly, in life.

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