Rebooted: The Learning Loop

I attended (and presented at) my first ever TeachMeet last Thursday. Before engaging with Twitter in July this year I’d never even heard of the phenomenon and now, in October, I am a passionate convert.


If you’ve never been to a TeachMeet or, if like me a few months ago, you’ve never even heard of them then quite simply it’s a bunch of teachers getting together to share some ideas. TMClevedon was the third such event organised by Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) at Clevedon School in North Somerset and was a pretty slick affair. The tables were covered in linen clothes, there was amazingly tasty free food on offer and of course there were some top quality education types presenting ideas on all sorts of interesting stuff. Mark has posted about all of them on his blog including a write up of my presentation on the Learning Loop.

I first wrote about the Learning Loop back in July but since then we’ve delivered it to a new cohort of students and as well as having grown in scope, some of the thinking which underpins it is a bit clearer to me. Particularly after reading Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham.

The problem is this: as teachers we want students to think. But as Willingham points out. “the brain is not designed for thinking.” Instead, he claims, it’s designed to avoid having to think about stuff my dipping into long term memory whenever possible. Thus when we learn to drive it takes enormous concentration but then after a few months of regular driving it’s become second nature and we can experience that mildly troubling sensation of having travelled for the last 50 miles with no conscious memory of it. Our ability to solve complex problems automatically without having to think about them is incredible.

So, one solution to getting students to undertake work which requires complex problem solving is to get them to learn how to do so by rote. The only issue with this is that although scientists have proved rote learning is an incredibly effective way to learn stuff it’s also a huge turn off and if we attempt it in the classroom students very quickly become demotivated. The Learning Loop is a way of getting students to repeat and therefore learn complex skill sets without it becoming boring.

Here’s a link to the presentation I showed at #TMClevedon:

The learning loop

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Now designing a scheme of work which is about acquiring skills might, at first glance seem to fly in face of Willingham’s ‘knowledge must come first’ argument, but I think the learning cycle outlined above is comparable to learning to drive: yes of course you need huge amounts of knowledge to be able to do it, but in the end all that knowledge results in what most of us would be happy to term a skill.
Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that by delivering this scheme of learning all of our students will magically become good at everything. They won’t. Willingham makes it clear that skills learnt in one area do not automatically transfer to others which is why chess grandmaster might be incredible at memorising chess moves but no better than anyone else at memorising other stuff. It’s all about the knowledge we need being ‘chunked’ into useful, easily digestible morsels which we can access with out thinking about it.
No, what I’m suggesting is that this scheme lays some pretty useful ground work for understanding the learning process and that if this is revisited and made explicit it can reinforce learning in all sorts of other areas.
More importantly though, the learning loop model can be tailored to fit anything. For instance if I want to students to learn how to write in a way which meets the needs of different audiences and purposes I can design a series of learning loops which can accomplish this:
If this cycle is repeated at least three times then students will be well on the way to having learnt a fairly complex skill which will mean when they are required to write for new audiences and purposes this knowledge stands a pretty good chance of being embedded into long term memory and therefore easily retrievable. This should mean that you get less of those, “Sir, I don’t know what to do,” moments because students won’t need to think about it; they’ll just be able to do it.
I’m hoping that this might just appeal to both sides of the skills vs knowledge debate as it contains elements of both constructivism and direct instruction. I’m sure you’ll let me know if you disagree.
In the meantime, here are a couple of videos of what we’ve done over the past few weeks:

7 Responses to Rebooted: The Learning Loop

  1. […] answer was out there. This chimes deeply and sonorously with what I’ve already written about looping learning. Single, isolated experiences don’t turn into learning; student opportunities to come at […]

  2. […] outcomes that students may produce and designed to tackle mastery rather than content delivery? The Learning Loop is a model which could accomplish exactly […]

  3. […] possible during a lesson we need to plan for opportunities to act on feedback. Why not use the Learning Loop planning model to ensure that these opportunities are built into your schemes of […]

  4. […] learning philosophies and practises, including upskilling me in the ways of SOLO taxonomy, the Learning Loop and Triple Impact […]

  5. […] not activities I’ve written before about my medium and long term planning model, the Learning Loop – the basic premise is that lessons should build on each other in a coherent way. In English […]

  6. […] but I don’t want to leave the process to chance. I’ve written before about using the learning loop to continually revisit knowledge but now I’ve applied some of this thinking to curriculum […]

  7. […] answer was out there. This chimes deeply and sonorously with what I’ve already written about looping learning. Single, isolated experiences don’t turn into learning; students need opportunities to come […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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