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Author: Chitra Iyer
Published on:
May 1, 2022

How to Understand and Improve my Child's Learning Process

With disruptions and rapid change becoming the norm, the workforce of the future will need people, above everything else, to be flexible, adaptable and effective learners. That’s why, more than content, parents need to help children understand and strengthen their learning process.
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Unfortunately, the urgency to refine our children's learning process does not reflect in our educational system, which still spends disproportionate time on the WHAT of learning (the curriculum) rather than the HOW of learning (the learning process). 

Parents need to step up and help children become better at learning to learn anything. It starts with understanding each child’s unique learning process.

Do you find yourself observing your children as they school from home (or bring their report card home) and worrying that they are learning….nothing? The problem could be not what they learn but how they learn.

Let me say that again.

Changing 'how' our children learn could be more important than worrying about 'what' they are learning.

Unfortunately, the sheer speed, competitiveness and pressures that most of us - and our children - live under, takes away most of our personal agency from not just what we learn, but also from how we learn.

Learning in the REAL world, as opposed to my utopian idea of learning in an ideal world, is really about learning something for a specific purpose, and in most cases, we don’t control that purpose. We don’t control the WHAT of learning - the topic, subjects, curriculum; we don’t control the HOW of learning- the method or process or pace we follow to learn; and we don’t control the WHY - the purpose, outcome or result - be it an exam, a certificate, a job evaluation or whatever. That is just SAD!!!

The reality is that such awareness or understanding of the learning process, and learning the skills to become better learners is not innate to learners. Or their parents.

Self-led learning expert John Dunlosky said that students mistakenly think they know how to study, when they really don’t.

In fact, schools and educators too seem to assume that students know how to learn, and only need to be told what to learn in order to actually learn. 

Being aware of the learning process with a view to building the most effective learning strategies, and using the right learning skills, techniques and mindsets is a conscious, deliberate activity.

What Does the Learning Process of an Effective Learner Look Like?

An effective learners’ process of learning does not start at the lesson and end at the exam. It is not just taking in information for one goal (test or exam).

It consciously and deliberately extends to before, during and after the actual learning event or experience. It is learning with the intent to get smarter, make better decisions and do more.

Before actually learning anything, an effective learner builds a strong learning mindset: one that is open to new information and keen to learn and connect that new information with what they already know. They invest in building the skills and habits of mind that will help them learn new things more efficiently and effectively. 

Effective learners are constantly trying to get better at learning.

During the actual learning event, they are able to use the right set of learning techniques to achieve their immediate learning goals. They consciously pick and choose the ones that work best for them in different learning environments. 

Effective learners are constantly evolving their learning style to become more effective during the learning.

After the learning event or experience, they are able to consciously reflect on what they have learned, as well as take and act on external feedback from trusted and credible sources. They invest effort and time into asking the right questions that help them better integrate the new information with what they already know.

With regular retrieval practice to improve recall; and their efforts with connection, reflection and feedback, effective learners can build and leverage the value of compound knowledge over the long term. 

Also get: our comprehensive all-in Learning Strategy free downloadable poster here.

A visual of the learning input- process-output-feedback cycle
We often forget about the 'process' and focus only on learning input and output!

The world's most successful people in any field- from sports to medicine, business to art - are all supremely effective learners. They are not so concerned with the actual subjects that they need to learn (the what). They know that what they need to learn will keep changing, keep expanding. 

The most effective learners are always more concerned with HOW they can learn (anything) better, and how they can keep getting better at learning. 

The basic principle they follow is that once they are aware of and understand their learning process, they can continuously improve it. 

The words Effective Learning is not an Event - it is a Process, is written on a pink flowe
It's time to build an effective learning strategy!

You can see how that would be invaluable in our world of disruption and distraction.

Once we understand the learning process, we can get better at it by refining the process over time. We can develop an effective  learning strategy, and help our child build the techniques and skills to become better and better at learning anything. 

Think of it as a math formula.

The value of X and Y will keep changing. What is important is to understand the process of arriving at X and Y. If you master the process, you can solve for any X and Y. 

Similarly, the WHAT of learning will keep changing - more rapidly than we can imagine. What matters is that we are equipped to learn any X and Y.

To improve the learning outcome, we have to start with understanding the learning process.

The Parents Role in Defining a Child’s Effective Learning Process

  • In the early years, say till age of 7, parents need to help build a solid ‘learning-to-learn’ foundation, building gentle familiarity with effective learning skills, techniques and mindsets

  • As they enter their tweens, say from 8 to 12 or so, we start making them aware of their own learning process, preferred learning styles, and the need for them to own their learning journey

  • By the time they reach their teens, it’s time to start working on more specific tools, techniques, skills, and mindsets to build a strong effective learning strategy that they can keep improving and refining as they go through life. 
A graphic that describes the effective learning process by age: 0 to 7 early learners, 8 to 12 tweens, and 13 to 18 teens
Parents have a key role at each stage of their learner's growth

I’m going to end with this great quote from Curt Gabrielson, author of this awesome book, Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff. He really articulates beautifully the loss of a child’s agency in their own learning process, and sharply helps us parents understand why it is so important for us to help them reclaim more control over it. 

“Assembly-line instruction is what happens in many schools. Learning is separated from productive activity. 
Kids are separated from families and most other adults and have little agency to decide how and when they’ll plug into the learning process. The content is decided by experts far removed from the community. 
Kids may have no idea why they’re learning this content, nor any idea how to apply it, but the broader society has deemed it important. Students are expected to ingest the content and later they are sorted according to how accurately they can parrot back this content on exams.”

If you want to change the narrative in your family, start with our Parent-friendly Series of Ultimate Guides to Effective Learning.

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