Adventures in Learning

Core learning concepts for faculty (Part 1)

Why the list?

Coming from academia myself, I know all too well that many educators are experts in a particular subject (Math, Marketing, Finance, etc.) but not necessarily in areas of learning.  Very little time of my PhD was dedicated to developing skills in pedagogy, andragogy, learning and the related fields…and, after over 25 years as a professor, I feel this is true for many faculty members. What many have learned, we have learned on the job, through sharing of practices, trial and error, and of course out of curiosity (all of which are great ways to learn by the way).

In France, to my knowledge, we don’t have anything akin to the Professional Standards Framework found in the UK (a nationally-recognised framework for benchmarking success within higher education teaching and learning support). (learn more here). Nonetheless, programmes that are recognized by the State need to show in what ways faculty skills are developed and maintained. The UKPSF offers a great starting point to do a deep dive if you’re interested.

The desire I had to start to build a list comes from numerous exchanges with faculty that want to learn more about learning. As educators, we want to better understand our responsibilities and what methods,tools and techniques exist.  I don’t claim to be an education « guru », but once again, after 25 years on the job, and a passion for learning, I thought I could bang out a nice list.  Turns out the list is a bit long, so I’m breaking into multiple parts.

So without further explanation, here are the first five elements of the list – in no particular order. If you have a favorite you’d like to add, please leave a comment.


Useful concepts in learning and pedagogy for faculty

Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning

According to David Kolb, « Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience ». The Cycle of Experiential Learning is a useful model that defines a 4-stage process of experiential learning.Kolb_Learning_Cycle

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Reflective Observation
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation
  4. Active Experimentation (Testing)

The model suggests that « Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences. » (see more here)

The University of Leicester offers a nice table of learning activities course designers can consider for each of the stages that I replicate here.
(Find more at

Stage Description Activities
Concrete experience Kolb’s cycle starts with a concrete experience. In other words it begins with doing something in which the individual, team or organisation are assigned a task. Key to learning therefore is active involvement. In Kolb’s model one cannot learn by simply watching or reading about it, to learn effectively the individual, team or organisation must actually do. ice breakers & energisers
team games
problem solving
practical exercises, e.g. making a presentation
Reflective observation The second stage in the cycle is that of reflective observation. This means taking time-out from « doing » and stepping back from the task and reviewing what has been done and experienced. At this stage lots of questions are asked and communication channels are opened to others members of the team. Vocabulary is very important and is needed to verbalize and discuss with others. ask for observation
write a short report on what took place
give feedback to other participants
quiet thinking time
tea & coffee breaks
completing learning logs or diaries
thought questions
rhetorical questions
Abstract conceptualisation Abstract Conceptualisation is the process of making sense of what has happened and involves interpreting the events and understanding the relationships between them. At this stage the learner makes comparisons between what they have done, reflect upon and what they already know. They may draw upon theory from textbooks for framing and explaining events, models they are familiar with, ideas from colleagues, previous observations, or any other knowledge that they have developed. present models
give theories
give facts
model building
Active experimentation The final stage of the learning cycle is when the learner considers how they are going to put what the have learnt into practice. Planning enables taking the new understanding and translates it into predictions as to what will happen next or what actions should be taken to refine or revise the way a task is to be handled. For learning to be useful most people need to place it in a context that is relevant to them. If one cannot see how the learning is useful to one’s life then it is likely to be forgotten very quickly. give learners time to plan
use case studies
use role play
ask learners to use real problems
case study


Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

« The objective of the course is to understand the key elements of a business plan ».  Unfortunately, this objective, as written, is not very useful as it doesn’t make clear how « understanding » is measured or shown. Let »s face it, learning objectives are tough for everyone. Benjamn Bloom helped make our job easier as educators by creating a taxonomy of verbs by level of learning.  The Taxonomy propoed by Bloom breaks down objectives into cognitive and knowledge dimensions. The cognitive dimension is most often used to define learning objectives. Once the objective is well defined, assessment methods are actually quite obvious.
I always have the list of verbs handy when creating a course syllabus. Here is a nice verb list from Azusa Pacific. The CC graphic is from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

The six levels proposed (from low to high) are:Blooms-Taxonomy-650x366

  1. Remember : Exhibit memory of previously learned material by recalling facts, terms, basic concepts, and answers.
    The students is able to define… ; The student is able to list… ; The student is able to recall … ; …
  2. Understand : Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by  organizing, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions, and  stating main ideas
    The student is able to explain… ; The student is able to summarize… ; The student is able to outline… ; …
  3. Apply : Solve problems to new situations by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way.
    The student is able to build… ; The student is able to construct… ; The student is able to make use of… ; …
  4. Analyze : Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes.Make inferences and find evidence to support  generalizations.
    The student is able to classify… ; The student is able to compare… ; The student is able to contrast… ; …
  5. Evaluate : Present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria.
    The student is able to assess…; The student is able to criticize… ; The student is able to defend…; …
  6. Create : Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions
    The student is able to adapt…;  The student is able to create…; The student is able to improve…; …

Gagnés 9 events of instruction

The 9 events defined by Robert Gagné provide an interesting instructional design model (like ADDIE). Gagnés model is often used to develop e-learning as well. The 9 events can be applied in a supplantive (teacher directed) or generative (learner generated) approach.

  1. Gain attention – provide meaning and sense. A key starting point. Get to « I want to learn more »
  2. Describe/fix objectives – Goal setting. « Here’s what you’ll be able to do when you’re done »
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning – Connect with past learning. Reassure learner. pre-requisites are in place. Build self efficacy.
  4. Present resources/content – Chunked to avoid cognitive overload. Learning Activities.
  5. Provide learning guidance – Structure. Checklists. Rubrics. Learning aids
  6. Elicit performance – Learner does something with new knowledge. Self test. Creation. Lab.
  7. Provide feedback – Assessment. What went well. Areas to improve.
  8. Assess performance – Summative assessment possible.
  9. Enhance retention & transfer – Apply in a personal context or in the field.


Typically, a scaffold is a temporary structure used to support workers in the construction of an edifice.  But scaffolding also exists in education…and it is quite similar. Scaffolding comes into play primarily in the zone of proximal development where guidance is required (between what the learner can do without support and what the leaner can’t do). Scaffolding is changing the level of support or guidance (peer or instructor) to suit the cognitive potential of the learner. Scaffolding is gradually removed over time as the learner develops. As course design moves from « I do it », « We do it together » to « You do it together » and « you do it », the level of the support structure (scaffold) decreases and responsibility moves from the instructor to the learner. This is a constructivist approach to learning.

Different types of scaffolds (support structures) exist. The article provide by Northern Illinois University is nice pace to start.


When assessing performance (formative or summative), a rubric provides a structured way to simplify feedback.  Rubrics are often useful when you want to

  1. provide a transparent method of assessment (rubrics are to be presented before work is undertaken)
  2. have harmonized assessment with multiple assessors
  3. help learners provide structured peer feedback
  4. increase assessment fairness
  5. integrate a grading scheme into an LMS for online marking or marking with a tablet

Rubrics are often referred to as grading « grids ». They help the assessor provide a « mark » on an assessed piece of work or activity.  Rubrics are required by accreditation bodies.There are 2 types of rubrics : Holistic and Analytic.

A holistic rubric is defined by a single scale (A,B,C,D,F for example) and the criteria required to achieve the grade. All criteria are listed next to each potential sore.  The holistic rubric requires few decisions by the assessor BUT creates issues when a piece of work does not fit nicely into one category. In these cases, some people recommend using an « all or nothing » rule (if all criteria are not met at one level, the lower level must be applied).

Here’s a simple example from the Cult of Pedagogy, showing us how to offer breakfast in bed to someone.

BBHolisticThe Analytic Rubric offers multiple criteria across a fixed scale (under expectation, meets expectations, exceeds expectations, etc.) Analytic rubrics can be associated with a weight and numerical value for each grid item. Some LMS systems offer integrated analytic rubric grading. They are great for feedback BUT there is the initial upfront cost (time to build) Needless to say, those that create them find that the old saying « pay me now, or pay me later » holds true, and in fact, total grading time is reduced if you’re ready to build the rubric.


To be continued….

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