LIVE Learning Helps Skills Stick


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Learning is something we cannot escape in this lifetime. It happens without us even trying- whether in a formal setting or not. But, there are some lessons that stick with us longer than others and there’s a reason for that.

Most of my formal learning, especially when becoming a teacher, occurred in a classroom under the tutelage of an expert adult conducting lessons based on unfamiliar topics to me at the time. A book of some sort was often the tool these expert adults used to convey the new knowledge or skill. I refer to this process as ‘passive learning’ since I was the recipient of knowledge with little action required on my part.

The problem with passive learning is that learners do not interact with the material often enough or in the right ways for long term memory to hold on to this information. Being a passive learner means we can cognitively “get it” without being able to do it. There’s the gap. At The New Teacher Project , we refer to this as the “get it, do it gap” meaning an individual can GET it, but can’t DO it yet. That’s because these individuals haven’t worked with the material enough for it to stick; they haven’t built the muscle memory in order to DO it.

The good news is that there is another mode of learning that is far more effective- ‘active learning.’ Unlike passive learning, the learner is in the driver seat actively learning how to do something new rather than learning about how to do it. When we experience learning in this way, our mind and muscles retain it for future use at a rapid pace. Its a more effective and efficient way to learn new knowledge and skills.

When I look back, the biggest stand out learning moments are active participatory events. I did not sit and listen to an expert adult and I did not refer to a textbook of some sort in order for the learning to occur. Instead, I immediately sprang to action, learning on my feet, applying feedback, and trying over and over again until I “got it.” I refer to this as ‘live’ learning because learning is happening in the moment or in live time.

For example, when I learned how to cook or ride a bike I did not sit in a classroom and listen to an expert teach me all the details necessary in order to perform these two actions. Instead I watched an expert for a short time show me what the final product would look like and once they provided quick tips I was off to the races trying this new skill out for myself. I did not do it perfectly or even correctly the first few times but as I was performing, these experts would talk through my actions and provide pointers. As I implemented these pointers in the moment, I got better. I repeated this step over and over increasing my skill level with every pointer implemented.

In the educational field, active (or live) learning is not often seen except for during student teaching experiences. That is why this semester in any educational program is the most exciting part of the journey because it is where the most learning happens. Its a shame active learning is not more present in the way educators learn to teach.

The second active learning opportunity I had after student teaching was when I obtained my National Board certification. I was required to write about what I was doing in my classroom and reflect on it. I also attended workshops and began to immediately implement their feedback with the techniques I was writing about. Just like student teaching, results were happening quickly due to these immediate changes. This was a huge moment of growth for me as a professional all because of the way the learning opportunity was designed.

Knowing that active/live learning is a powerful tool, we must create the environment in our classrooms for students to learn in this way. As educators, we must step away from the front of the room directing students like conductors of a choir. We have to engage in a learning dance, where the teacher and student go back and forth exchanging information and guidance for performance and results. Students need learning to stick in order to reach their potential and active learning is the way to make this happen.

Come on educators, lets do this!


How do you help learning stick in your classroom?

About the author, Gretchen

I am a teacher trainer and coach. Working elbow to elbow with teachers and teacher leaders to ensure instructional proficiency and student achievement soar lights me up. We have a real need in our nation for strong educators to remain in the field. My blog, book, podcast, courses and instructional materials are geared towards empowering teachers (and those that lead them) to receive the support needed to grow and thrive today, tomorrow and always.