Get Better Grades, Quicker and Easier, by Practicing

Using What is Known About Learning in Your Course

You are probably like almost every college instructor I have ever met. You want your students to succeed. You and your students face difficult barriers, ranging from students of varying degrees of college readiness to financial needs and outside jobs. The blog is dedicated to helping you, an individual college faculty member, deliver the student outcomes you and your students want.

This first post sets forth some general principles that I and others have found extremely useful toward that end. Subsequent posts will describe things my colleagues and I have done, things we have seen others do, and posts from others on their approaches and results.

What is the Goal?

A college education consists of a body of knowledge–information, skills and mindsets. Despite important and on-going debate, as a practical matter, college curriculums are fairly uniform about the course requirements for Bachelor’s degrees in the various subject areas.

The body of knowledge resides in the minds of faculty, experts, books and articles. Increasingly, the knowledge is also available in digital files, including videos. The central issue is to transfer this body of knowledge to college students. Almost all of the effort in improving that transfer has focused on the inputs students receive from instructors, books and videos. The second front of improving students’ capabilities to learn has been somewhat neglected. There are many reasons for this, but especially these two. First, most Introduction to College and Student Success courses are relatively ineffective. Second, poor student outcomes have been blamed on the students being unprepared, unmotivated or inherently unable to succeed in college.

Who has the IQ and Motivation to Graduate College?

What I and others have found is this.

1. Almost all teens and young adults in the U.S. know the value of a college education. Regardless of how they are doing in school and what they say, they would love to graduate from college. Their principle barriers to doing so are they don’t think they can and they don’t know how to do better in school.

2. Almost all teens and young adults in the U.S. (and the world) have sufficient intelligence and diligence to master a college curriculum and earn a degree in four years.

My predecessors, colleagues and peers have been able to assist students in succeeding in college by designing and delivering courses based on these established and intuitively obvious facts about learning.

What Do We Know About Learning

• What is learning? A change in your brain that enables you to do something you couldn’t do previously.

• How do you learn? Primarily by doing—speaking, writing and solving. No one ever became good at anything without practicing. Watching, listening, and reading are preparation for practicing.

• How much practice do you need? Enough to master the lesson. People learn at different rates. Access to help while studying at least doubles your learning rates.

• Can you get smarter? Yes. Your learning rates are not fixed. The more you learn in a subject, the faster you can learn the next thing. IQ is not the problem. Over 90% of all students are smart enough to get A’s (Benjamin S. Bloom and others.)

• How important are pre-requisites? Absolutely critical. Missing skills when a course starts make it difficult to keep up. Within weeks it can be almost impossible to catch up.

• What about motivation? Success is motivating. Failure is often not. Competition is motivating only if you have a good chance of winning.

This post sets the stage to present case studies on technology in education, flipped classrooms, competency-based (mastery) learning, and other practices you may find helpful in serving your students. Please stay tuned.

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