Key Principles of Learning

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There are a vast range of theories that attempt to explain and demonstrate the way that people learn.

Such theories can often contrast with each other depending on the type of learning they describe, for example traditional learning theories associated with children and adolescents engaged in ‘schooling’ may differ from theories associated with adult learning.

The following list is generic and identifies the key principles associated with all types of learning and can be applied to group situations as well as when learning alone or with a mentor, tutor or trainer.

This list is not exhaustive but it should, however, help you to understand some of the key concepts of learning.

  • People learn best when they are treated with respect and are not talked down to or treated as ignorant.  Establishing ground rules at the start of a training session will reinforce this important principle However, for the training to be most effective and to involve full participation, the trainer should model such exemplar behaviour.
  • Learning opportunities should, when possible, be linked to previous positive experience – this involves self-awareness on the part of the learner and understanding and empathy on the part of any facilitator.  Learning can be blocked by past negative experiences – some people who hated school cannot bear to be in a classroom situation, for example.
  • When possible learners should take part in the planning of learning activities.  Learners should be encouraged to be self-directing in terms of goal-setting since this usually improves commitment and motivation and increases participation.  Facilitators should examine the expectations of the learner at the start of a course or session to help to encourage self-direction.
  • People learn best when their physical environment is comfortable.  In group situations a positive emotional and supportive environment is also important; individuals in groups tend to learn best when they can socialise and interact with other group members.
  • Interaction with a facilitator is vital.  People need to be able to react, question and voice opinions on what they are learning.  Generally, in group situations, quieter members should be gently encouraged for their input.
  • Learning activities and/or delivery need to be varied, to cover the range of different learning styles and help the learner maintain interest and motivation.  In a classroom setting, for example, including discussions or other activities, especially some sort of problem solving, as part of a lesson or lecture will enable learners to interact and engage with the subject.
  • Instant rewards help.  People learn best if the results and/or rewards of learning are made clear and can be demonstrated during or immediately after the learning experience.
  • Self-evaluation and reflective practice is important.  Learners should be encouraged to reflect on what they have learnt and think about ways that they can further their knowledge.


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