Thursday, January 21, 2010

Critical Points in the Learning Process

Author’s Note: Before I get started today, I wanted to mention a note that I received from Professor David Albrecht. I am always pleased to pass along information that might help in better teaching.

From David: I've been blogging for a while. My blog is at On my blog, a have a page of links http://profalbrecht.wordpress/com/links/ for all other accounting professors that blog. You might be interested.

I have long believed that there are three critical points in the learning process: (1) what students do prior to class to prepare themselves to learn, (2) what takes place during class, and (3) what happens immediately after class to help the students solidify the material that they have just heard and discussed. If I were to guess, I would think that teachers spend about 10 percent of their time and energy on helping guide step (1), 89 percent of their time setting up step (2), and 1 percent of their time and energy guiding step (3). Personally, I think a 33.3, 33.3, 33.3 allocation might make for a much better educational experience.

Students leave class and if they are not careful any and all understanding leaks away very quickly. Subsequently, when test time arrives, they find it necessary to cram all that understanding back into their brains in almost a panic. Not surprisingly, they will then complain that they “knew it all until they got to the test.” What they really mean is that they had a vague understanding leaving class but never solidified the knowledge so that it went from a general appreciation of the material to an actual and deep understanding.

Therefore, I encourage my students to organize, review, practice, or whatever it takes within a few hours after each class. I stress that this might well be the most important work they do in my class. I do not feel that I can over-emphasize taking the material that we have gone over in class and bringing it into their actual knowledge base.

Unfortunately, students seem to have little training as to how to do this. Ask your students some day “what have you done since the last class to make sure that you understood that material we covered?” You may well get some truly bewildered stares. You have introduced a foreign concept.

I try to help guide my students AFTER material has been presented. As I have said before in these postings, I use email a lot. One of my favorites uses is a quick email right after class to say “okay, here is what we covered today and here is what you should do next to get that material under control.”

For example, on Wednesday of this week, we had our opening discussion on transactions and transaction analysis. Within 10 minutes of leaving class, I sent them the following email to alert them to exactly what I needed for them to do next. Plus, I introduced my concept of “three-second knowledge,” the stuff they should know so well that they really don’t need to think about it. I believe every course has a significant amount of three-second knowledge. If the students can get that learned, they will have an excellent base of understanding on which to build more complicated concepts.

Email to students after Wednesday’s class:
“--We ended class looking at the financial ramifications of seven transactions. I need for you to go back over those seven until you know them backwards and forwards. These are not hard (and there are not many) but you cannot have soft knowledge on this. You need to have this down absolutely solid. If I walk into class Friday and ask you about one of those seven, I need for you to have this at what I call the "three-second level of knowledge." In other words, if I call on you with one of those seven, you should be able to count to three and tell me the answer. Not look it up in your notes or the book but count to three and tell me the answer. If you start coughing and sputtering, then, by definition, you are not at the level that I want. Notice, that this is just for the seven transactions that we specifically covered yesterday.”

How can you help your students take their soft knowledge and turn it into an understanding that is absolutely solid?

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