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Monday, October 17, 2011

Learning to learn: cognitive point of view

It was in the 1970s when researchers began working from cognitive perspective, learning processes and some spanish articles called to this issue The Holy Grail of education. Not much to say about it, it seems clear there is a need to provide strategies to students, to enable them to automate skills and this is the dreamed goal. But many years later, thousands of articles in all languages, theoretical proposals, which come and go, conferences, books and gallons of ink, it seems that still there is no perfect strategy to achieve it.

While learning to learn sounds like an excellent target, the process is complex. By way of definition, although not unique, it's said that humans learn when the information and meanings can be considered useful for the purpose of life (Perez Gomez, Gomez Soto, Sola Servan Fernandez and Nunez, 2009). This implies another concept known as meaningful learning. But the goal sought is to have students able to reach a critical thinking whose main premise is to achieve a mental activity of evaluating arguments and proposals based on the decision-making that may develop well-planned beliefs and actions (Astleitner, 2002).

Sounds simple!, does it not?, then someone will have to explain why international evaluations have failed to find evidence of formal educational attainment. Several studies have been seeking to reach the goal, as an example of this can include Delphi2 Project; its development began in 1988 in the United States and whose central purpose was the consensuses of experts to evaluate and develop instructional programs that enable make students think more critically.

It was then, that cognitive studies focused part of its efforts to understand the differences in the ways of thinking of students, suggesting that these discrepancies identified specific forms of action, under the assumption that every student comes from different environments (Facione, 2000). This measurement scales were developed and of course, flooded the research between statistics. More ink, more effort, it seems they forgot the main question: how important is to explain the critical thinking?, or, does the student is able to develop the critical thinking and use it in life?.

While there were those who focused on the development of strategies as metacognitive and problem-based learning, known as ABP, in instructional strategies, another group remained determined to measure the skills, and of course there were those who were focused on the division of definitions  leading to conceptual knowledge focusing basically on two possibilities: disciplinary knowledge defined as knowledge, focusing primarily on reading, writing and information management, and on the other side lie the skills or know-how, which can be considered metacognitive functions (Lederman, 1999).

On the other hand, there are also instrumental skills of cognitive type, focusing on the analysis and synthesis of information, organization and planning and communicating ideas, that are related to systemic skills, which are the ultimate goal as metacognition for learning in an autonomous way (Monereo and Badia, 2004).

Then, we can say that from this perspective, student begins from cognitive skills necessary to grasp simple communication  as verbal, reading, writing and arithmetic processes, until  be able to make decisions based on the needs of the context and the information and tools available.

How do student do it?, from this perspective that depends on schooling and all  teacher´s instructional strategies that develop from the curricular needs. Specific content contains a particular strategy with specific goals (Maturana, Soliveres and Macias, 2002). In the early years, instruction focuses on monitoring the student's activities, supervise micro tasks, shaping the work without allowing the student to take many decisions, not allowing the deviation of the results. Any wrong answer from the student will give as a result, to repeat the task, at this sense, learning from formal school, depends of the teacher.

As the students achieve the skills, the scaffolding takes the place of modeling, gradually allowing the student to pass from the micro tasks to specific tasks and even, some freedom, as new knowledge requires innovative forms of learning, as example of this are teaching science or art (Lederman, 1999).

The decisive step is when students  have to make decisions about their future, such as what career to choose?, for this decision, student will have to be  able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and finally,  decide their own life based on their prior learning, career goals, personality and resources (Monereo Badia, 2004).

But sometimes, great achievements not give the speed in a school curriculum planned, or under the supervision of a teacher who faithfully believes that changes occur over time or due to the school structure. All curriculums are designed on what experts of the professional field, often successful at work, think that is what the learner should know. But students have individual academic histories that sometimes hit on the wall. Even the most successful universities in the world face academic support because of the lack of adaptation of a group of students and while there are subjects that are enjoyable, easy, others require special assistance to find the way to use all information.

The most basic skills, starting from the cognitive, it's the recognition of the differences between natural language and symbols of mathematics. The use and management of the sounds of both languages are the gateway to the rest of knowledge (Dzib Goodin, 2011). Each of these processes has its specific needs for the acquisition, and in the case of reading and writing depends on environmental stimulation as well as strategies to facilitate acquisition. Hence the importance of good school practices.

Once purchased the bases, the following process shall be on the analysis and synthesis of information and how to use it. Getting to the point where student is able to create and share its own ideas.

Hence, the student will be responsible for his ideas, the learning environment, speed and use its own ideas, take decisions, and be able to be a creator of its own strategies.

Between the second and third stage, there is a moment to develop metacognitive skills, seeking awareness of actions, including, for example, being able to retrace his own steps to determine the sources of error. This opens the possibility to modeling, share and choose different chains of action, looking for targets defined by its own efforts.

Thus, learning is a complex process that probably involves a lifetime, which can not be restricted to formal education. The passage that begins long before birth and that will benefit, no doubt, from all the support possible, enabling it to determine the best way to learn. Learning to learn is a personal responsibility but depends on the means to take flight. Sometimes you never achieved, not by the cognitive system itself can not, if not the scaffolding or modeling strategies are not right, not used at the right time or long enough or the student accounts with more effective strategies.

The literature on metacognitive processes, usually see the college students  as the trustees of this level of thinking, however, it's common to see students at this level who are not able to make decisions for themselves, while people with extensive experience are able to determine the best course of successful companies. That's why you should not underestimate the student's own skills. And strategies should consider the student, rather than the curriculum. The learning center is not only a successful educational program.

There are not instant experts or geniuses; they develop from the way that recognizes the needs of the environment. There is no one school in the world capable of producing 100% of world leaders, presidents, artists, athletes or entrepreneurs. Only a few will achieve social success, but others will have a cognitive development capable to adapt to the environment. Success can be found in daily actions. And the process will continue to expand forever.

There is not way to forget the role of motivation in the activation of cognitive processes certainly must be present and valued. And it's time for a little metacognitive exercise: How did you learn to learn?

Alma Dzib Goodin

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Astleitner, H. (2002) Teaching critical thinking on line. Journal of instructional psychology.29 (2) 53-76.

Badia, A. y Monereo, C. (2004) La construcción de conocimiento profesional docente: Análisis de un curso de formación sobre la enseñanza estratégica. Anuario de psicología. 35 (1) 47-70.

Dzib Goodin, A. (2011) Introducción a los proceso neurocognitivos del aprendizaje: lenguaje, lectura, escritura y matemáticas. Servicios Editoriales Balam. Mexico. En prensa.

Facione, PA. (2000) The disposition toward critical thinking: its character, measurement, and relationship to critical thinking skill. Informal Logic. 20 (1) 61-84.

Facione, PA., Sanchez, CA.  y Facione NC. (1994) Are college students disposed to think? The California Academic Press. USA.

Lederman, NG. (1999) Teachers’ understanding of the nature of science and classroom practice: factors that facilitate or impede the relationship. Journal of research in science teaching. 36 (8) 916-929.

Maturano, CI., Soliveres MA.  y Macias, A. (2002) Estrategias cognitivas y metacognitivas en la comprensión de un texto de ciencias.  Enseñanza de las ciencias. 20 (3) 415-425.

Pérez Gómez, A., Soto Gómez, E., Sola Fernández, M. y Serván Nuñez, MJ. (2009) Aprender como aprender: Autonomía y responsabilidad. Akal. España.

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