How can faculty present important content to be learned in ways that improve student learning?
Page 3: Knowledge-Centered Learning Environments
An instructor who wants to create a knowledge-centered learning environment throughout a course will need to answer three main questions about the course’s content:
- What will be taught?
- How will it be taught?
- How will it be organized?
However, within these questions are a number of additional questions that an instructor should ask in order to accurately evaluate the knowledge-centeredness of the environment that needs to be created:
- Is the subject matter aligned with relevant standards?
- Is it organized around big ideas that matter to students?
- Is it focused on information and activities that help learners develop an understanding of a subject or discipline?
- Does it promote learning about available resources and how to use them?
- Does it produce knowledge and skills that are coherently organized and connected?
A knowledge-centered learning environment introduces knowledge (facts, ideas, concepts, and principles) in a timely manner—when the need to do so naturally arises, or when learners see a need. In this type of environment, learners should expect new information to make sense and should be prepared to ask questions when it does not. This emphasis on sense-making is crucial to helping students to develop metacognitive skills, those that help students learn more about their own learning. We’ll further discuss the importance of metacognitive skills in the section on assessment-centered learning environments. Listen to the audio clip below to expand your understanding of knowledge-centered learning environments (time: 1:15).
Ultimately, knowledge-centered learning environments guide students to learn with understanding, which in turn helps to build expertise and to facilitate the transfer of knowledge to other situations.
Although learning with understanding is the overarching goal, there are times when skill-building needs to be the primary goal. Thus, finding the balance between activities designed to promote understanding and those designed to develop skills that need to be automatic or second nature is a key challenge of building a knowledge-centered learning environment (Wiggins & McTighe, 1997).
Now that you’ve had a brief summary of a knowledge-centered learning environment, you might wish to take a few minutes to interact with the Challenge scenarios below.
The Bass Fishing movie and audio presentation by John Bransford below contrast learning a skill with understanding a discipline. It illustrates the reason learning with understanding is important for the student.
Click on the movie below, and then listen to the audio for an introduction by John Bransford about the concept of conditionalized knowledge and the importance of understanding the conditions under which a fact may or may not be true.
To see how knowledge-centeredness is incorporated in an IRIS Module visit Accessing the General Education Curriculum: Inclusion Considerations for Students with Disabilities. Note that factual information for students is organized and presented in different formats (e.g., both text and audio interviews) and the material is aligned to the objectives of the Module. Examples are used to help students transfer the content to real-life settings, allowing for better understanding and applicability of the material. Information is also presented in formats that facilitate better student understanding (e.g., color-differentiated tables with graphic cues that can increase retention).