Article 2 – Recommended Reading on How We Learn


newhorizonslearnHow People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning
by John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking, editors
With additional materials from The Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino, editors
Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education of the National Research Council
National Academy Press, 2000
ISBN: 0-309-07036-8

We predict that How People Learn will become one of the most influential books ever published on teaching and learning. It is based on the most important findings from the neurosciences, cognitive and social psychology, human development, processes of effective learning, environments in which learning best takes place, and emerging technologies. All of this research is leading to new understandings of how to apply science to the practices of education.

These scientific achievements include a fuller understanding of memory and the structure of knowledge, problem solving and reasoning, the early foundations of learning, regulatory processes that govern learning including metacognition, and how symbolic thinking emerges from culture and community of the learner. The book highlights three key findings:

1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.

2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.

3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

The book notes that the foregoing principles have major implications for teaching and teacher preparation. For example:

1. Teachers must draw out and work with the preexisting understandings that their students bring with them.

2. Teachers must teach some subject matter in depth, providing many examples in which the same concept is at work and providing a firm foundation of factual knowledge.

3. The teaching of metacognitive skills should be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of subject areas.

In relation to designing classroom environments, the book suggests that:

1. Schools and classrooms must be learner centered.

2. To provide a knowledge-centered classroom environment, attention must be given to what is taught (information, subject matter), why it is taught (understanding), and what competence or mastery looks like.

3. In the assessment-centered classroom environment, formative assessments help both teachers and students monitor progress. Formative assessments permit the teacher to grasp the students’ preconceptions, understand where the students are in the “developmental corridor” from information to formal thinking, and design instruction accordingly.

4. Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place. A community-centered approach requires the development of norms for the classroom and school, as well as connections to the outside world, that support core learning values.

How People Learn fleshes out the research and implications for practical application in clear ways that are well documented and supported by numerous examples. The last section, Future Directions for the Science of Learning, has been published in a separate shorter book entitled How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. It offers a research agenda to strengthen the link between what we know about learning and what goes on in America’s schools. We believe all educators should keep this book close at hand and refer to it frequently.

Both books are online at the following URLs: is the full research volume is the shorter version for school educators is the National Academy Press catalog, with additional excellent materials.

Both books may be ordered in hard copy at or from the National Academy Press, 1-800-624-6242 or 202-334-3313 in Washington Metropolitan area. (Larger book is 374 pages; shorter book is 78 pages.)

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