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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Learning: Three Foundations

A consistent challenge when leading seminars and consultations for teachers and faculty is helping them shift from a teaching-oriented stance to a learning-centered perspective. 

While those are two sides of the same coin, focusing on learning and the learner, in contrast to teaching and the teacher, makes for a more effective educational enterprise. That does not mean that teachers should not learn how to teach well; it means that one must not do so while neglecting the focus of the teaching craft: the learner.

Simply put, learning is a process that leads to change. That change is the result of the experience teachers provide for the learner. 

Additionally, learning must result in the potential for application–immediate or future– and future learning. That latter piece is a product of retention of learning.

Here are three foundations of learning. Consider to what extent these inform your teaching.


1. Learning is a process assessed through outcomes. 

Because learning is a process of cognition (the mind and the affect), one can only assess if learning has taken place through student products or performance. But teachers often have trouble differentiating between a learning outcome and a learning activity. Too often, teachers assess a learning activity and fail to assess the intended outcome of the activity. The rule: differentiate between a learning activity and a learning outcome. Assess the learning outcome.


2. Learning involves change. 

Traditionally, we assess learning when there is a change in one of four domains: knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, or attitudes (though the schema of domains may vary). A common learning assessment is retention–how well a learner has retained what was taught. However, the more rigorous nature of instructional changes the more retention over time. Authentic learning involves helping students move new learning (knowledge, behavior, attitude) from short-term to long-term memory, from being familiar to comprehension to characterization. Authentic and meaningful learning has a long-term impact on the learner, making application possible over time. 


3. Learning is not an outcome of teaching. 

Learning is not something done to students, say Ambrose and Bridges, “but rather, something students themselves do.” Learning is the result of what students experience, and how they interpret, respond, and make meaning of that experience. 

Therefore, a focus on student learning (in contrast to focusing on teaching) involves providing students with meaningful experiences; the opportunity to reflect (analyze, interpret) on that experience, achieving new insight, or creating new knowledge based on that experience. It also means to make application based on the insight or new knowledge–immediately and over time.

Adapted from How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, by Susan Ambrose and Michael Bridges.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administartors, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and  Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).


Dr. G. & Friends