Unit 4: The social nature of learning

Although we often think about learning as a solitary affair, the construction of new ideas and knowledge operates most effectively when learners combine solitary study with opportunities for discussion and collaboration with one another.

Every Module contains recommended teaching activities in which students are collaborating with one another in discussions or other group activities. Whether you pursue these recommended activities or create activities of your own, the students benefit when they can share ideas, learn from one another, and even argue and debate.

Watch this video of James Lang discussing the social nature of learning.

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The fourth point is about the fact that learning is social. And affects learning can be more effective when it's social. So many times in higher education, there's a teacher standing at the front of the room and there's a bunch of students sitting out in the chairs. So there are more than one human there's more than one human being in the room, but it's not a very social interaction.
And what we've learned from the research here, as well, is that learners can help each other sometimes in ways that are more effective than you can help them. And that's because as experts in our field, we develop what's called expert blind spot. So if I'm learning to you know, when I learn to ride a bike, I have to go through a lot bicycle, I have to go through a lot of trial and error before it then becomes automatic to me. I can just hop on my bike and go.
And if I try to teach a new learner to ride a bicycle, it's hard for me to get back and remember what it was like to be a brand-new learner. And so I might not be quite as understanding as would be someone who has just learned to ride a bicycle and still remembers what it was like to go through that process.
The same is true of your course material, as well. You know the material so well now that it's difficult for you to see the places where you struggled when you were first learning it or the places where your students might struggle. So one of the things that we can do is get students give students opportunities to work in groups and to help each other. And oftentimes, they'll be able to help each other more than we can help them because they are near one another in terms of their learning, as novice learners.
So that just tells us that and as you'll see in many of the Modules, try to get students working together in groups or to get the class working together in a more sort of community-oriented way than just sort of the teacher at the front and the students out in the desks. And that's because we know that students can really help each other learn.
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4.1 Expert ‘blind spots’