An article Dani and I wrote – “How Do Our Students Learn?: An Outline of a Cognitive Psychological Model for Information Literacy Instruction” – was recently published by Reference & User Services Quarterly.
Here’s the abstract of the piece:
Effective pedagogy requires understanding how students learn and tailoring our instruction accordingly. One key element of student-centered pedagogy involves understanding the cognitive psychological processes according to which students learn, and to structure our teaching with these processes in mind. This paper fills in a gap in the current literature, by applying empirically grounded lessons drawn from the cognitive science of learning, and discussing specific applications of these lessons for information literacy instruction. The paper outlines a framework for information literacy instruction, grounded in the educational and cognitive psychology literature, for facilitating student retention and transfer of information literacy skills, two classic measures of student learning. Five specific principles and several strategies for promoting retention and transfer within information literacy instruction are outlined.
We are quite interested in how students learn, especially from the standpoint of adopting a learner/student-centered perspective. In order to be learner-centered, we must be empathic toward our students. Part of this involves understanding how students’ brains work when it comes to learning, what strategies help them remember and think critically about information, so we can tailor our teaching to where our students are at. Thus, although we offer a “scientific” model here, we believe these strategies are deeply empathic and humanistic: they take who our students are as human beings as central to our teaching, allowing us to meet our students where they’re at.
We think this approach can have a really positive impact on our students and our own teaching practices as librarians. As we say at the close of the piece:
Findings from the science of learning can refocus our instruction on student learning outcomes and enrich pedagogical practices. This cognitive model of instruction is intended to serve as a guide and inspiration for instruction librarians who want to engage in evidence based practice and leverage the findings of cognitive science to improve student learning outcomes. These five principles are broad enough that they can be applied to every type of information literacy session, including those done in online environments. The model is not meant to be prescriptive nor are the examples the sole way to apply these principles; indeed, one value of the framework as presented here is that it allows for infinite creativity in its applications. With this understanding in place, librarians are in the position to think of any number of innovative ways to develop specific learning exercises and lesson plans that will help students think about the deep structure of information within the context of research. This article should be the starting point for reflecting on how we teach and how we might support student learning more effectively.
It’s our hope that by filling in a gap in the current library literature – which is often based, in my view, on really outdated empirical views on learning, or infected by post-modern, abstract philosophizing with no real empirical support – that these concrete strategies driven by the current science of learning can point us toward a direction where we’re as serious as teacher-librarians about scientifically & psychologically sound, effective pedagogy, as we are about resources.
Here’s a link to the article: if it doesn’t work for you for whatever reason (the link is kinda weird; or you’re not an ALA member; or your institution doesn’t subscribe to the journal; or whatever), drop me a line and I’ll e-mail you a copy, at least until RUSA sends me a cease and desist order.