Supporting eLearners – How Students Learn

There are seven research-based principles about how students learn that should inform your support of eLearners. These principles were originally developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in 2010.

The following table provides instructional strategies for each principle. Note: If you are viewing this table on a mobile device and the table is cut off, try swiping your finger over the table to view the content.

PrincipleExamples of Instructional Strategies
Principle 1: Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder their learning.Collect data about students and use it to design your instruction. For example, have students assess their own prior knowledge through a survey, quiz, or poll.
Principle 2: How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. Be explicit about the course learning goals, objectives, and expectations. Have students create a concept map or complete a sorting activity to demonstrate how they are organizing their knowledge.
Principle 3: Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn. Connect the material to students’ interests. Provide authentic activities that have relevance to students’ academic or professional work. Provide opportunities for early success. Provide flexibility.
Principle 4: To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.   Enlist a teaching assistant to deconstruct tasks. Give students opportunities to apply skills and knowledge in diverse contexts. Provide practice opportunities to increase fluency. Provide prompts to relevant knowledge.
Principle 5: Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.   Target the appropriate level of challenge. Be explicit about goals. Use a rubric to communicate performance criteria. Build scaffolding into assignments. Look for patterns of error in student work. Incorporate peer feedback. Require students to specify how they used others’ feedback. Incorporate peer feedback. Require students to specify how they used feedback.
Principle 6: Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning. Use multiple and diverse examples. Model inclusive language. Establish and reinforce ground rules. Use the syllabus and the first unit of content to establish the course climate. Address tensions early. Facilitate active listening.
Principle 7: To become self-directed learners, students must assess, evaluate, plan, monitor, and adjust as needed.   Be more explicit than you think is necessary. Give early performance-based assessments. Make planning a central goal of the assignment. Provide activities that require students to reflect. Help students set realistic expectations.

Reference: Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., Lovett, M. C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching.