What is effective learning?

{Scales, Pickering, & Senior, 2011. Continuing Professional Development in the Lifelong Learning Sector.}

Fundamental principles that underpin learners’ success.

Learner-centered; based on constructivist principles; active and deep learning; develops learners’ higher-level skills and cognition; develops learners’ self-confidence, self-esteem, and sense of agency; develops wider skills, such as problem-solving and communication, which are transferable to employment and further learning; helps learners to learn how to learn.

The Teaching and Learning Research Project (UK) posits ten principles, stating that effective teaching and learning:

1 Equips learners for life in its broadest sense

Develop learners as active citizens who can develop their intellectual, personal, and social resources. We look to the development of broader outcomes, such as equity and social justice.

2 Engages with valued forms of knowledge

Engage learners with the big ideas and key processes of your subjects.

3 Recognizes the importance of prior experience and learning

A clear link with constructivist learning principles is established. Adult learners have considerable life experiences and want to have these recognized in their learning.

4 Requires the teacher to scaffold learning

Provide learners with support structures to help them build their learning. These structures are gradually removed as the learning becomes secure.

5 Requires assessment to be congruent with learning

Assessment should advance learning and help learners to learn; formative assessment or assessment for learning. Learning outcomes and assessment objectives should be matched; constructive alignment.

6 Promotes the active engagement of the learner

Develop independence and autonomy by increasing learners’ repertoire of learning strategies.

7 Fosters individual and social processes and outcomes

Importance of people cooperating and collaborating; co-constructionism. Giving learners a voice and consulting them about their learning.

8 Recognizes the significance of informal learning

A link to situated learning theory.

9 Depends on teacher learning

Improvements in teaching and learning are clearly related to the need for teachers to continually develop, enhance their knowledge and skills, and develop their roles, particularly through classroom inquiry and action research.

10 Demands consistent policy frameworks with support for teaching and learning as their primary focus

Four R’s of Learning Power (from Claxton, 2008. Building Learning Power.)

Resilience – being ready, willing, and able to lock on to learning

Resourcefulness – being ready, willing, and able to learn in different ways

Reflectiveness – being ready, willing, and able to become more strategic about learning

Reciprocity – being ready, willing, and able to learn alone and from others

These powers can be promoted by the methods teachers use and how they interact and work with learners.

The four R’s are the fundamental learning principles to create environments where learners can build their belief in themselves as learners and develop the positive attitudes and abilities necessary to become lifelong learners.


Absorption – flow; the pleasure of being rapt in learning

Managing distraction – recognizing and reducing interruptions

Noticing – really noticing what’s out there

Perseverance – stickability; tolerating the feelings of learning


Questioning – getting below the surface; playing with situations

Making links – seeking coherence, relevance, meaning

Imagining – using the mind’s eye as a learning theatre

Reasoning – thinking rigorously and methodically

Capitalizing – making good use of resources


Planning – working learning out in advance

Revising – monitoring and adapting along the way

Distilling – drawing out lessons from experience

Meta-learning – understanding learning and yourself as a learner


Interdependence – balancing self-reliance and sociability  

Collaboration – the skills of learning with others

Empathy and listening – getting inside others’ mind

Imitation – picking up others’ habits and values

‘The Learning Power Palette’ describes how teachers can develop learning power, or the methods and ways in which to interact and work with learners to promote the four R’s of learning power.

Explaining – telling students directly and explicitly about learning power

Commentating – conveying messages about learning power through informal talk, and formal and informal evaluation

Orchestrating – selecting activities and arranging the environment

Modeling – showing what it means to be an effective learner


Informing –  making clear the overall purpose of the classroom

Reminding – offering ongoing reminders and prompts about learning power

Discussing – inviting students’ own ideas and opinions about learning

Training – giving direct information and practice in learning


Nudging – drawing individual students’ attention to their own learning

Replying – responding to student’s comments and questions in ways that encourage learners to learn

Evaluating – commenting on difficulties and achievements

Tracking – recording the development of students’ learning power


Selecting – choosing activities that develop the four R’s

Framing – clarifying the learning outcomes behind specific activities

Target-setting – helping students to monitor their own learning power targets

Arranging – making use of displays and physical arrangements to encourage independence


Reacting – responding to unforeseen events, questions, etc., in ways that model good learning

Learning aloud – externalizing the thinking, feeling, and decision-making of a learner-in-action

Demonstrating – having learning projects that are visible in the classroom

Sharing – talking about their learning careers and histories

Themes, Topics, Key Ideas for CPD

Developing a wider range of teaching and learning techniques

Review and develop your range of techniques and repertoire of methods to meet the needs of a diverse range of learners.

For your CPD, this means 

Being willing to explore and develop new techniques.

Taking risks in trying new techniques and reflecting on their adaptation and development.

Recognizing that your preferred way of learning may differ from your students.

Using peer observation and support to evaluate new techniques.

Lifelong learning

Principle of lifelong learning; State or behavior; Opposite state or behavior:

Growth-orientation; The belief that one can learn to learn; Stuck or static

Meaning-making; Seeking to make connections; Fragmentation, Unconnected bits of learning

Critical curiosity; The desire to find things out; Passivity

Resilience; Robustness and resilience concerning learning; Dependence and fragility

Creativity; Trying out different ways; Rule bound, Unadventurous

Learning relationships; Learning with others as well as on one’s own; Dependence, Isolation

Strategic awareness; Sensitivity to one’s learning; Robotic

Lifelong learning has become associated with adult learning and particularly with the needs of the economy and the skills agenda. The vision to build human capital by encouraging creativity, skills, and imagination and fostering an inquiring mind and the love of learning has been largely eroded.

Given that there will be many jobs in the future which don’t yet exist, how do we know what skills will be required?

We must concern ourselves with what people learn and how they learn and continue to learn. The seven general principles of lifelong learning given above can serve as a basis for building learners’ self-belief and autonomy.

For your CPD, it is important to:

Familiarize yourself with the history, development, and key issues in lifelong learning.

Appreciate that lifelong learning implies learning to learn as much as teaching a subject or content.

Understand the need to encourage learners’ belief in themselves as learners. Adjust how you communicate with learners and create positive learning environments.

Understand more about how people learn most effectively.

Engage in reading and research beyond and outside of your sector. Are there opportunities for collaborative working, say, as part of a partnership?

Appreciate that teachers are lifelong learners too. Part of this is your need for CPD and to develop your skills as lifelong learners.

Deep learning

Meaning-making is linked to the constructivist theory of learning and tells us that knowledge cannot be transmitted; it has to be constructed afresh by each individual.

Surface learning is characterized by rote learning, memory, and low-level cognitive activities rather than understanding; it can only usually be reapplied in the same situation in which it was learned; it is of limited use. Real learning only occurs when the information is connected to previous learning.

Using a building metaphor, surface learners collect bricks of information with no clear idea about how to assemble the building. Deep learners build frameworks into which they can fit the bricks to make a meaningful building.

Deep learning is about understanding a subject, making connections, and recognizing underlying principles. It is most likely developed by student-centered activities, such as problem-based learning; reflection; case studies; application; evaluation, and analysis. It is long-lasting and requires the development of schemata and the making of connections. It can be achieved through engaging in challenging problems with curiosity.

For your CPD, this means:

Engaging in further research into deep and surface learning.

Assess your teaching and learning methods; are they likely to encourage deep learning?

Sharing the concepts of deep and surface learning with your learners as a metacognitive activity, helping them reflect on and improve their learning.

Advance organizers

Devices for providing organizational frameworks to prepare learners for what they are about to learn, giving learners an idea of what the finished building should look like. Devices to map the territory of the new region of learning they have entered. They link previous knowledge and learning to the topic or provide the big picture for new learning.

Examples include concept maps, flow charts, diagrams, written overviews, timelines, maps, tree diagrams, bullet points, and series of steps.

These organizers fix an idea or concept so that new learning can relate to it.

An advance organizer can consist simply of a concise spoken or written introduction to a session that identifies the key issues to be considered or questions to be answered.

For your CPD, this means:

Do a search on graphic organizers; use or adapt some of the ideas you find.

Develop advance organizers to help learners understand a block of learning or even a whole course; to see the big picture and the elements within it.

Introduce your learners to advance organizers, concept maps, and visual thinking, and encourage them to use them on their own or in small group work.

Formative assessment

It aims to promote learning and motivate learners; it is an assessment for learning.

Summative assessment, assessment of learning, is the summing up or checking of learning at particular stages.

Improving learning through assessment requires

providing effective feedback;

active learner involvement in their learning;

adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;

recognizing the influence of assessment on learner motivation and self-esteem;

learners assessing themselves and understanding how to improve.

Inhibiting factors of assessment may be

the tendency to assess the quantity of work and presentation rather than the quality of learning,

greater attention on marking and grading rather than providing advice for improvement, and 

not knowing enough about learners’ needs.

For your CPD, this means:

Do you provide assessments designed to improve and develop learning?

Are the purposes and requirements of assessments clear to learners? Do they know why they are doing them?

Do you provide effective and developmental feedback?

Assessment can be informal, such as the use of questioning and discussion.


The most important elements of success in work and life are the kinds of learning experiences people have and their belief in themselves as learners.

What do employers want? Employer wish lists usually include communication, team-working, problem-solving, literacy, numeracy, general IT skills, timekeeping, business awareness, customer care skills, personal presentation, enthusiasm and commitment, and enterprise.

For your CPD, this means:

Do you consider a range of activities that will develop employability, deep learning, and thinking?

Integrated projects, work-related projects, can motivate learners and develop their employability, bringing together a wide range of learning opportunities: communication; problem-solving; ICT; presentation; evaluation.

In work-based learning, make links between theory and practice, between what they do in the classroom and in the workplace.

Thinking skills

Higher-order thinking processes include remembering, questioning, forming concepts, planning, reasoning, imagining, solving problems, making decisions and judgments, and translating thoughts into words. Thinking skills are centered on deliberate, purposeful, structured thinking processes. They include: collecting information, solving and analyzing information, drawing conclusions from information, brainstorming new ideas, problem-solving, determining cause and effect, evaluating options, planning and setting goals, monitoring progress, decision-making, and reflecting on one’s progress.

Personal learning and thinking skills require learners to become: independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, team workers, self-managers, and effective participators.

Problem-solving, employability, and thinking skills are best developed using an embedded approach. Share ideas with learners and get them to reflect on their own learning and thinking; through metacognitive activities.

For your CPD, this means

Research into thinking skills and ways in which you can embed them.

Encourage learners to consider and reflect on their thinking and how they learn. Use learning logs and discussions.

Develop a range of teaching and learning techniques that include thinking skills.

Problem-based learning

PBL begins with the problem and asks learners to identify what knowledge and skills they already have and what additional learning they need to solve the problem. For your CPD, identify significant problems as a basis for learning relevant to the curriculum and the lives and experiences of learners.

Personalized learning

Make every learning experience responsive to the learners’ particular interests. Involve learners in decision-making and plan for their learning to maximize motivation, relate to their background, draw on their strengths, and take account of their preferred learning styles. Work in partnership with the learner and employer to tailor their learning experience and pathways according to their needs and personal objectives in a way that delivers success. Consider

understanding learning and how people learn,

extending the range of teaching and learning strategies,

creating a thinking curriculum,

learning to learn,

assessment for learning,

personal learning plans,

harnessing technology to support personalization,

listening to and building on the student’s voice.

Behavior management

Investigate the extent to which there is a shared definition of bad behavior among you and your colleagues.

List the kinds of behavior you consider bad.

What is it about these behaviors that make them bad?

In a group, is there a consensus about the definition of bad behavior? What different perceptions are there?

What might this mean for your CPD?

Carry out further research into behavior and motivation.

Research causes of behavior problems.

Are learners different in different situations?

Are there practical strategies to alleviate behavior problems? Consider planning and structure of sessions, communication style, content, teaching and learning methods, resources, and formal teaching versus practical learning.

Using PowerPoint

Linear structures organized around bulleted lists and stock templates with irrelevant clipart can reinforce learners as mere viewers.

The core teaching ideas are explanation, reasoning, finding things out, questioning, content, evidence, and credible authority, not patronizing authoritarianism. These are contrary to the cognitive style of linear presentation and bullet outlines.

Tools are there to support teaching and learning, not to dictate the form and structure of it.

Finding ways to help learners construct and critique their learning requires teachers to use tools more creatively and reject the easy options provided by stock templates. Concept maps, mind maps, hyperlinks, and action buttons show learners that knowledge and ideas exist in complex and changing networks. Try to avoid bullet points. Don’t let style become more important than content.

Encourage learners to push their ICT learning and apply it in other contexts. Consider working with colleagues and learners to develop your skills and knowledge collaboratively.