Implications of Learning Research for Teaching Science to Non-Science Majors

Eugenia Etkina – Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Jose P. Mestre – University of Massachusetts Amherst

In this paper we discuss ways in which learning research has affected conceptualization of how people learn science, and then discuss the implications of these research findings for teaching science to non-science majors. Prior to the cognitive revolution, learning a complex process was conceived as demonstrating mastery through observable behaviors of all the sub-components of the complex process. Within the cognitive perspective learning a complex process is perceived as constructing knowledge, meaning, and sense-making by the learner. Hence, the shift has been from a view that learning is the acquisition of desired behaviors, to a view that learning is the construction of knowledge by the individual-construction that is mediated by the context of the learning, the social environment, and the prior knowledge of the learner. We begin with an overview from a cognitive perspective of several areas relevant to science teaching and learning, including the role of prior knowledge in learning, the nature of expertise, transfer of learning, metacognition, and assessment. We then consider instructional implications suggested by the science of learning and formulate nine instructional principles for successful science instruction. We conclude with suggestions for ways of structuring science courses for college non-science majors that reflect the instructional principles that we present.

Topics of Interest to the SENCER Community

Research Based Education

  • A review of research on learning and its application to teaching at all levels.
  • A set of research-based principles for science instruction

How Science is Learned

  • An overview of the concept of the cognitive revolution and the concept of constructivist learning

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