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Principles of Learning


This summary is adapted from P.T. Ewell's Organizing for Learning: A Point of Entry, a draft prepared for discussion at the 1997 AAHE Summer Academy at Snowbird National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). 

The latest gains in the field of brain research cast a new light upon the learning process, which impacts curriculum design, teacher preparation, and classroom practices (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). The model we have developed to illustrate the Principles of Learning, which we consider to have a significant influence upon knowledge acquisition, skill enhancement and competence development when applied to both classroom settings and communities, has evolved from developments in the study of learning. Knowing how humans learn has helped us design the model we propose, which demonstrates the practical applications of research into educational settings.

A variety of research approaches and techniques have been developed that seek to alter the old conceptions about learning and focus on learning with understanding. Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate, stated that the meaning of "knowing" has shifted from being able to stock information and repeat it to being able to critically make use of it.

Peter Ewell’s article, "Organizing for Learning: A Point of Entry,"is consistent with the INTIME vision of effective learning for the following reasons: (a) It brings insights into what is known about how learning occurs and lasts; (b) it shares our belief in the impact of the use of instructional technology; and (c) it suggests ways to change the instructional process with consideration given to the cognitive science and human learning research tradition.

Our eight learning components are adapted from Ewell’s understandings of the richness and complexity of learning based on the converging evidence from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and developmental research.

  • First and foremost, the student is Actively Involved and participates in his or her instruction. Information is not delivered to him or her, rather the student creates it.

  • Thus, students have the opportunity to establish, test, and rework Patterns and Connections as they "make meaning" out of learning situations.

  • Learning does not occur in classroom settings only, nor is it contained within the time frame of a lesson. Learning is Informal and it can be acquired anywhere, at any time.

  • Because students are actively involved in creating their own patterns and connections and because learning occurs in informal settings, besides the classroom, it is inevitable that we will have misconceptions. Direct Experience in a real context is required in order to change or alter these preconceived notions.

  • If a learning situation is a Compelling Situation, which goes beyond a direct experience in that the situation involves real consequences, then the learning will be more challenging and interesting for the students.

  • Ewell stresses the importance of the incentive as well as the corrective role of Frequent Feedback, which students should get from instructors and peers throughout the learning process; without opportunity for practice, even well-learned abilities will go away.

  • Following the point about frequent feedback, Ewell emphasizes that the feedback will be most effective if it is delivered in an Enjoyable Setting that involves personal interactions and a considerable level of personal support.

  • Ewell presents Reflection, our eighth principle of learning, as a subcomponent of Compelling Situation because as a learner discovers new connections while involved in a compelling situation, Reflection is necessary to reach the point of deeper learning required for this information to be used in future situations. In our model, Reflection becomes one of the primary elements of learning because we feel that through reflection students can take control of their own learning. The practice of reflection enhances self-assessment skills that lead to recognizing what has worked and what needs to be improved. All of this leads to transfer of learning to new settings and for long-term impact (Bransford et al., 1999, ch. 3).

Ewell also included a Readiness to Learn element in his principles of learning, which we feel overlaps all eight elements of Learning in our Model. Therefore, we created a separate component within the center of the Model, Students at the Center of Their Own Learning. Since "readiness to learn" has an implicit impact upon all the other components of learning, it fits within this center circle, upon which all of the learning principles are based. 


            Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school [On-line]. Available: [2000, October 4]