Understanding the Dynamics of Learning: The Case for Studying Interactions

AbstractMost models and theories of learning envision general learning mechanisms that work similarly across most, if not all, learning contexts. However, the reality of the learning dynamics seems to be very different. Learning is not independent of the learning context, instead, the learning process is changed by the learning context. For example, different learning outcomes result from similar learning experiences with different content or learner characteristics. Moreover, because studying the learning process is closely interconnected with studying how to improve learning outcomes, most proposals of how to improve learning follow the same context-independent principles. Although general proposals about how to improve learning outcomes have the benefit of simplicity, they have the potential drawback of failing to live up to their promise. In this paper, I argue for the power of studying interactions between learning conditions and contextual factors. I use my research to exemplify the power of this approach not only to understand the dynamics of learning and how a learning mechanism works across multiple contexts but also to uncover robust ways to improve learning outcomes.

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