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Developing the ability to teach and learn

Author: Dr Simon Moss


Various strategies, tactics, practices, and exercises have been developed that expedite the acquisition of knowledge and skills. This article presents some of the strategies and pracrtces that instructors, teachers, and facilitators should consider. The article also offers some advice to students and participants.

Information that improves the capacity of participants to learn


Step 1. During training sessions, participants should occasionally be encouraged to anticipate the next sentence. In addition, every five minutes or so, they should be asked to estimate the likelihood they will remember some fact or argument in several days.

To learn information during training sessions, some individuals engage in strategies that can be applied with limited effort. For example,they will often repeat or paraphrase the information to themselves. To a lesser extent, they will also consider whether or not they agree with the arguments. Occasionally, they will identify similarities and contrasts between the information and previous sentences. They might also identify similarities and contrasts between the information and their own knowledge. In contrast, some individuals engage in strategies that demand more effort but facilitate learning. To illustrate, they will often anticipate the next sentence or reflect upon the extent to which they believe they will remember this information in the future (Linderholm & Van der Broek, 2002).

Step 2. Participants should be encouraged, occasionally, to act decisively and to demonstrate initiative throughout the year. Often, individuals need to decide which of several alternatives to pursue. For example, they might need to decide whether or not to confront someone who acted offensively. Rather than deliberate over the alternatives incessantly, they should act spontaneously and initiate some action.

Step 3. Whenever individuals feel slightly distracted before a workshop, they should attempt to recall one of these occasions in which they acted decisively and demonstrated initiative.

After students reminisce about times in which they acted decisively and spontaneously, they feel less distracted (Kruglanski, Thompson, Higgins, Atash, Pierro, Shah, & Spiegel, 2000;; Kruglanski, Pierro, & Higgins, 2007). They do not feel the urge evaluate the various possibilities, complications, and implications of their decision (see also Regulatory mode). Their attention remains focussed on the workshop.

Step 4. If they feel uncertain about some matter, before the workshop, these participants should, as rapidly as possible, be encouraged to list a couple of specific activities they may pursue to resolve this issue in the future. They could also list a creative or unusual possibility as well.

Furthermore, when individuals attempt to complete an activity under pressure--such as attempt to list a couple of specific activities they might pursue to resolve a problem--they subsequently feel less distracted. When time feels limited, ruminations about a previous task tend to dissipate (Leroy, 2009 & see also Need for closure and attention residue).


Step 1. During training programs, participants should be instructed to write notes as neatly as possible. Furthermore, they should attempt to vary their writing style. For instance, they could utilize one writing style, such as large printed letters, whenever the discussion revolves around one topic. They should then adjust their writing style as soon as the discussion revolves around another topic. Alternatively, they could clutch the pen with only two fingers.

Participants of training programs who write notes as neatly as possible tend to learn more effectively. To illustrate, participants must sometimes concentrate intensely when they operate a cursor or transcribe notes. As a consequence of this effort, these participants become more focused and attentive. When the individuals are focused, they are more likely to notice and thus remember vital information. In other words, when a task becomes more difficult to coordinate or operate, attention, engagement, and thus thought and memory improve (Washburn & Putney, 2001). Nevertheless,if a task becomes more difficult to understand, the individual cannot focus their attention upon the material. Hence, their memory of this information tends to dwindle.

Step 2. Alternatively, immediately before the lecture begins, participants could be encouraged to sketch some shapes, like ovals or leaves, on a blank piece of paper. During the workshop, the participants could be encouraged to doodle occasionally, perhaps by shading these shapes, while they are not writing.

While individuals shade various shapes, their attention is more likely to be directed to important information& they seem less distracted. As studies show, their memory and learning improves (Andrade, 2010).

Step 3.During the workshop, participants should be encouraged to ensure their backside is as far back on the seat as possible. Individuals associate this posture with times in which they were enthusiastic. Hence, when they are encouraged to assume this posture and to sit straight, feelings of excitement, determination, and persistence are inadvertently evoked (Ducios, Laird, Schneider, Sexter, Stern, & Van Lighten, 1989).

The principles that instructors should promote

Information that motivates participants

Step 1. During training workshops, instructors should inform participants that performance on the tasks they will discuss does not appreciably depend on any genetic qualities or characteristics. Instead, ability on these tasks can be developed through effort and practice. They could present examples of individuals who did not perform these tasks well initially, but developed remarkably competence eventually.

Individuals who feel that competence is fixed, and cannot be developed through effort and training, are more likely to worry before they engage in a task that might reflect their intelligence or ability (Cury, Da Fonseca, Zahn, & Elliot, 2008). They are also less likely to practice& hence, their performance tends to be relatively inferior. Specifically, these individuals feel that inferior performance is a fundamental reflection of their competence and character. They begin to worry and indeed refrain from practice, to ensure they can ascribe failures to limited familiarity with the task rather than impaired ability (see Implicit theories of malleability).

In contrast, individuals who feel that competence is malleable, and can be developed through practice, do not feel that inferior performance is a fundamental reflection of their competence. They are less concerned about the prospect of failure& worrying diminishes, ultimately increasing the likelihood they will practice the task and improve their ability.

Embracing errors

Step 2. Sometimes, during training programs, participants seem more concerned with avoiding failure than developing expertise. As a consequence, they tend to be distracted as well as sensitive to criticism rather than engaged in the task. To override this problem, individuals should be encouraged to commit errors deliberately. Indeed, they should be informed that such errors facilitate, not disrupt, learning (Bell & Kozlowski, 2008). Second, instructors should encourage participants to learn the task themselves, rather than follow a strict set of instructions or procedures. This approach is especially effective when the participants are intelligent.

To facilitate the acquisition of skills, some instructors apply an approach called active learning, in which their primary objective is to encourage participants to motivate themselves. That is, participants are encouraged to select which activities they will undertake, to monitor their own performance, and to develop their own strategies. In addition, participants are encouraged to regulate their own motivation, mood, thoughts, and behavior. To foster this orientation, instructors first encourage participants to explore the various facets of this skill themselves rather than follow a set of instructions or procedures. This provision promotes planning and monitoring, together with the development of strategies and tactics, especially in participants who are intelligent.

Second, some instructors encourage participants to commit errors, highlighting that blunders facilitate learning. This provision fosters a motivation to learn (see Heimbeck, Frese, Sonnentag, & Keith, 2003), especially in participants who are usually more concerned with avoiding failure than developing expertise (Bell & Kozlowski, 2008).

Incidental words

Step 3. Whenever applicable, instructors should relay information to participants on a personal level. Specifically, they should substitute the term "the" with "your" whenever possible. For example, they could replace the phrase "Pressing this button activates the software on the computer" with "Pressing this button activates the software on your computer."

When the term "your" is used, participants are more likely to associate the information with personal experiences or knowledge they accumulated in the past. These associations with past experiences and knowledge enhance learning and understanding (Mayer, Fennell, Farmer, & Campbell, 2004).

Mode of presentation

Visual versus verbal

Step 1. When instructors have to demonstrate how one facet, such as anxiety, depends on another facet, such as intelligence, they should present this information in words. They can, however, present a graph after these findings are described.

To illustrate, a speaker might want to highlight that anxiety tends to impair job performance in employees who are not intelligent. In contrast, anxiety tends to enhance job performance in employees who are very intelligent. Conceivably, this information could be presented as a graph--with two lines, one corresponding to unintelligent employees and one corresponding to intelligent employees. Alternatively, rather than rely on a graph, the speaker might simply describe this finding. Individuals cannot readily understand graphs that depict how the benefits of one facet, such as anxiety, depend on another facet, such as intelligence& individuals struggle to integrate distinct facts into a single conclusion (Parrott, Silk, Doragan, Condit, & Harris, 2005).

Schedule and context

Contexts that promote concentration

Step 1. Instructors often need to propose complex arguments to teach or persuade their participants. They should propose these complex arguments approximately 30 or so minutes after coffee is first provided.

If individuals carefully consider the arguments that someone proposes, their opinion is more likely to change if they had recently consumed coffee--or some other beverage that contains caffeine (Martin, Hamilton,McKimmie,Terry, & Martin, 2007). Caffeine sometimes obstructs adenosine receptors in the brain, ultimately increasing the activation of specific regions. When these brain regions are activated, attention is enhanced. Any attempts to concentrate closely on the arguments that someone offers are more likely to be effective. As a consequence, these individuals will understand the arguments better as well as consider the broader implications. The beliefs and opinions of individuals,therefore, are more likely to be amended after they consume caffeine.


Assessment goals

Step 1. To ensure that individuals are more likely to experience pleasant, rather than unpleasant, emotions throughout the year, their goals should relate more to enhancing their skills and qualities rather than outperforming other employees (see goal orientation). For example, each month, they should record the extent to which they have improved on some skill. In addition, they should be asked to specify three to five strategies they will apply to enhance their progress in this course. Possible strategies might include an attempt to communicate some of the ideas to friends, record these ideas in a diary, and so forth.

The goals that individuals set during a training or development program can reduce the likelihood that individuals experience unpleasant emotions throughout the year. For example, if the primary goal of individuals is to enhance their own skills and qualities--rather than to outperform colleagues--they are less likely to feel bored, angry, and uninspired during the year. When individuals focus their attention on their immediate learning, they experience inspiration and enjoyment if they feel a sense of control over the activities they pursue. However, they experience anger and boredom if they do not feel this sense of control. When individuals strive not to be outperformed by other employees, they focus more on the past or future. Because they strive not to be outshone, they become very sensitive to possible failures. Hence, they are more inclined to feel shame if their attention is focused on the past and anxiety if their attention is focused on the future.

Furthermore, students who are asked to specify three to five strategies they will apply to enhance their progress in this course are more likely to perform better than are students who are encouraged to specify 3 to 5 targets they would like to reach by the end of this course (Latham & Brown, 2006). These students also outperform participants who are merely encouraged to "try their best" (Latham& Brown, 2006). When individuals consider strategies they will apply, rather than outcomes they will achieve, they become more absorbed and engrossed in the tasks. In contrast, when individuals consider the outcomes they will achieve, they do not become as engaged& their focus on the outcomes highlights shortfalls, which provokes agitation and compromises engagement.

Assessments during classes

Step 2. During training sessions, instructors should provide simple multiple choice tests--that is, tests in which the incorrect options can readily be disregarded. These tests encourage participants to review the material, which enhances learning, without interfering with their memory.

When instructors provide easy, rather than difficult, multiple choice tests before the final examination, participants are more likely to perform well (Butler, Marsh, Goode, & Roediger, 2006). That is, instructors often provide preliminary multiple choice tests several day, weeks, or even months before the final examination. If these tests are very difficult, individuals must consider all the options carefully. These false options can interfere with their memory for material in the future. Difficult tests, therefore, are likely to tarnish exam performance if success is appreciably determined by memory rather than understanding.

If the tests are easy, however, the participants can readily disregard the false options. These false options are less inclined to interfere with memory.

Related topics

For further insights, see:


Agarwal, P. K., Karpizke, J. D., Kang, S. H. K., Roediger III, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (2008). Examining the testing effect with open- and closed-book tests. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 861-876.

Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 1001-106.

Bell, B., & Kozlowski, S. (2008). Active learning: Effects of core training design elements on self-regulatory processes, learning, and adaptability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 296-316.

Butler, A. C., Marsh, E. J., Goode, M. K., & Roediger, H. L. (2006). When additional multiple-choice lures aid versus hinder later memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 941-956.

Cury, F., Da Fonseca, D., Zahn, I., & Elliot, A. (2008). Implicit theories and IQ test performance: A sequential mediational analysis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 783-791.

Ducios, S. E., Laird, J.D., Schneider, Sexter, E., Stern, M., & Van Lighten, L. (1989). Emotion-specific effects of facial expressions and postures on emotional experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 100-108.

Eitam, B., Hassin, R. R., & Yaacov, S. (2008). Nonconscious goal pursuit in novel environments: the case of implicit learning. Psychological Science, 19, 261-267.

Heimbeck, D., Frese, M., Sonnentag, S., & Keith, N. (2003). Integrating errors into the training process: The function of error management instructions and the role of goal orientation. Personnel Psychology, 56, 333-361.

Kornell, K. (2009). Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 1297-1317.

Kruglanski, A. W., Pierro, A., & Higgins, E. T. (2007). Regulatory mode and preferred leadership styles: How fit increases job satisfaction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29, 137-149.

Kruglanski, A. W., Thompson, E. P., Higgins, E. T., Atash, M. N., Pierro, A., Shah, J. Y., & Spiegel, S. (2000). To "do the right thing" or to "just do it": Locomotion and assessment as distinct self regulatory imperatives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 793-815.

Latham, G. P., & Brown, T. C. (2006). The effect of learning vs. outcome goals on self-efficacy, satisfaction and performance in an MBA program. Applied Psychology, 55, 606-623.

Leroy, S. (2009). Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 109, 168-181.

Linderholm, T. & Van der Broek, P. (2002). The effects of reading purpose and working memory capacity on the processing of expository text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 778-784.

Martin, P. Y., Hamilton, V. E., McKimmie, B. M., Terry, D. J., & Martin, R. (2007). Effects of caffeine on persuasion and attitude change: The role of secondary tasks in manipulating systematic message processing. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 320-338.

Mayer, R. E., Fennell, S., Farmer, L., & Campbell, J. (2004). A personalization effect in multimedia learning: Students learn better when words are in conversational style rather than formal style. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 389-395.

Okubo, M. (2010). Right movies on the right seat: Laterality and seat choice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 42, 90-99.

Parrott, R., Silk, K., Doragan, K., Condit, C., & Harris, T. (2005). Risk comprehension and judgments of statistical evidentiary appeals: When a picture is not worth a thousand words. Human Communication Research, 31, 423-452.

Sitzmann, T., & Ely, K. (2010). Sometimes you need a reminder: the effects of prompting self-regulation on regulatory processes, learning, and attrition. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 132

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Last Update: 5/15/2016