BetaGov Blog

Learning Corner: Learning About Learning

Posted on August 6, 2019     By Maureen Hillhouse & Angela Hawken

A stack of books

We are constantly learning, even though it may not be obvious. For example, you may change lanes on the highway because your experience has told you that following a car towing a trailer may slow you down. You learned. Perhaps you avoid a certain restaurant on a Saturday night because the wait is intolerable. You learned. We often think of schools and universities as the places where learning takes place—and it does—but learning also happens as you move through life, observing and questioning.

We have featured trials and Pracademics in recent issues of our newsletter as examples of learning; learning from failure and iterative learning are two types that we have showcased. With our education Practitioners, we get to learn about learning. How can we help students maximize their educational experience? We have seen several trials that were designed to build knowledge about how best to teach reading comprehension. One considered the optimal placement for pictures in relation to text. Students in 3rd through 5th grades were randomly assigned to read a story with a picture presented either at the beginning or at the end of the text. It turns out that the results were different by grade level (link to snapshot). This study has implications for teaching and schoolwork preparation but might also be pertinent to other settings (think about how you might use images in the documents you prepare, to better engage your staff or the clients you serve). Learning-about-learning trials can provide important information both for inside and for outside of classrooms.

You may want to consider exploring learning-about-learning trials in your agency. Training academies are great venues for RCTs to help us learn the most effective way to impart knowledge, and there are many opportunities to test learning in routine operations as well. You may be interested in how best to train law enforcement and corrections officers to respond in dangerous situations, how to most effectively communicate expectations in a probationer handbook, or the benefits of oral vs. written instructions in filling out applications. Learning is good, but learning about learning may provide hidden insights to improve success!