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Different contexts for learning: why do we need to make learning meaningful (and why we often fail in that)? PhD Grete Arro

Grete Arro completed her PhD in Psychology in 2014 and works as a researcher in the School of Educational Sciences in Tallinn University.

Her research interests are related to children's self-regulated learning – more specifically with metacognitive learning skills, emotion regulation, motivation and development of word meaning structure. Since 2006, she has worked in various longitudinal educational research projects as a researcher, and she is also leading a research project related to homework in Estonian schools.

She also works on curricula development in the School of Educational Sciences in Tallinn University and teaches various courses, mainly for educational leaders and psychologists. Alongside smaller projects, she is contributing to a longitudinal study (project leader prof Eve Kikas) that aims to assess and develop general competencies (self-management, social and learning skills).


Different contexts for learning: why do we need to make learning meaningful (and why we often fail in that)?

For making learning happen - that is, processing new information deeply and reorganizing one’s previous knowledge system - there are numerous aspects for taking into account, and also to get confused of. For example, today we know that in order to encourage autonomous motivation for learning, giving value and meaning to the content from the learner’s perspective enhances academic achievement. Anecdotally, making learning experience meaningful for students seems to be easier outside of traditional school context. Is there some fundamental knowledge about scaffolding motivation that both academic and non-academic fields can deliberately learn to apply?

Second, researchers have found that telling young people success stories about scientists might provoke their science-related interest and motivation less, compared to telling them, how these scientists struggled in their intellectual pursuits or in their lives (Lin-Siegler et al, 2016). So how do we model the path to success for the young people? Do we think, that telling them about great discoveries that just “happen” to some people make students, who may currently struggle with much more simpler tasks, feel connected to these scientists’ paths? Or maybe we should model the more correct idea, that success never came without effort and perseverance, and failures and setbacks are a natural part of the process. So the seemingly tiny details of how we give our well-meant message can be reconsidered and wisely designed.

Third, in learning new concepts, it often happens (but remains unnoticed), that students in classrooms construct pseudo- or synthetic concepts about phenomena in the world. These are concepts that “look like” scientific, but actually the students have not understood or deeply processed the information behind the concept and hence the understanding is primitive and scientifically wrong (Kikas, 2003, 2005). We also know, that constant linking perceptually achievable (“real-life”) and abstract, scientific information/ explanations is something that helps to build the correct conceptual understanding. Hence, maybe the “out-of-class” environments, that offer the hands-on experiences, are the underused context for building up correct scientific understanding of the world?

How to make people eager to build new synapses and scaffold the old ones, is still one of the most interesting questions ever asked; however, it is reasonable to apply as much all that, what we already know and ask constantly new questions based on previous answers.

Last updated: 30 August 2017