It may be surprising to hear that the greatest amount of learning loss in schools isn’t related to or a result of the pandemic. It’s true many students didn’t learn as much as expected or at a pace anticipated during the pandemic. As a result, too many students exited the pandemic with learning that lagged. Yet, the pandemic impact largely isn’t learning loss. It’s learning that simply isn’t gained.
This might seem like a semantic difference, but the fact is many students face real learning loss at a larger scale annually than what’s been sacrificed to the pandemic. Students learn a great deal during the typical school year only to lose much of what they’ve learned in a few weeks or months. Too often, recapturing the learning students lost leads to reteaching, remediation, or intense review.
Many factors contribute to such widespread learning loss including:
- Lack of connection, purpose, or relevance associated with what’s learned.
- Learning to achieve a grade rather than build knowledge and skills.
- Single dimension instruction, such as lecture.
- Patterns of instruction that feature limited or no review over time.
- Learning that occurs and is assessed at a superficial level.
- Absence of application of and continued practice with new learning.
So, what can be done to counter such significant, persistent, systemic learning loss? Fortunately, much research and experience are available and can be brought to bear in support of our efforts. Here are a dozen strategies we can employ regardless of our students’ ages or the content or skill we’re supporting them to learn:
- Focus on the purpose and value of what students are asked to learn. When students know why they’re learning and how they can use what they learn, motivation increases, and recall is extended.
- Employ multiple strategies to engage learners in new content. Rather than relying on a single method, such as lecture or reading, consider creating a simulation, engaging students in discussion, sharing a video explanation, using graphics, and adding other strategies that can add to the learning experience.
- Have learners create, describe, or model what they’re learning. For example, students might write a set of instructions or directions to apply what they’re learning. They might develop a summary explaining the topic, or they might demonstrate the application of a new skill.
- Provide or have students draw pictures or develop graphic representations. Teach students to create mind maps to demonstrate relationships among components of what they’re learning.
- Create micro-learning experiences. Engage students in short seminars – five to ten minutes – on specific topics and skills. Share virtual demonstrations students can view remotely. Consider recording a series of podcasts, especially for complex or multi-part content.
- Weave new content and skill into a game format to increase engagement, sustain attention, and create emotional connections. However, be careful not to have the game overwhelm or distract from the intended learning.
- Have learners track, document, and provide evidence of their learning. Making a case to prove learning builds ownership and helps students move learning from working memory to long-term memory.
- Pair students who are on similar learning paths. As students engage, reflect, and learn together, they can help to fill in information gaps, clear up confusion, expand each other’s perspectives, and sort for significance.
- Have students develop model lessons to teach content or a skill they’ve learned. The process of organizing information and sharing with others not only helps to clear up confusion and fill learning gaps, but teaching also deepens learning and extends learning retention.
- Enlist students in developing assessment questions and creating quizzes to assess their own and each other’s learning. Like teaching new content, contemplating good questions and seeking ways to assess understanding also embeds learning deeper in memory.
- Have students develop integrating tasks and projects, including across disciplines and subjects, that feature or demonstrate key concepts and skills they’ve learned. Consider giving students a list of concepts and skills from which they might draw as they design. Opportunities for autonomy and creativity in these activities can maximize engagement and learning retention.
- Schedule frequent opportunities for reviewing and revisiting knowledge and skills from past learning. Creating games from, exploring applications of, and finding new implications for past learning can add fun and variety to these important activities.
Learning can be challenging enough. Once students have made the effort to learn, it makes little sense to have them quickly forget, only to relearn later. Fortunately, it takes only a little more time and effort to nurture learning that sticks than it does to stimulate learning that’s quickly forgotten.