Four Steps – Planning for Learning How to Learn

If students understand how they can learn, then they can utilize the tools that they know would work for them. This awareness of the process of learning is discussed quite a bit in my post about Metacognition. Check out that post for some tools that you can use with your students.

Another useful tool I found is from the Study Guides and Strategies website:

According to the Study Guides and Strategies website, there are 4 steps in learning to learn:

  1. Begin with the Past
  2. Proceed to the Present
  3. Consider the Process and Subject Matter
  4. Build in a Review

On the website, there are questions that belong to each of the above steps that can help students develop their strategies to learn.

Students should first begin with the past and assess the strategies that have worked for them before. They can ask themselves questions like, “What is your experience about how you learn?”, “Did you like quiet or study groups?”, “What are your study habits?”, “What has worked, and what hasn’t?”

Then they assess the present and ask themselves questions like, “How interested am I in this?”, “What affects my dedication to learning?”, “Do I have a plan? Does the plan consider my past and learning style?”

Next, students consider the process and subject matter by asking themselves, “What is the heading/title and keywords that jump out?”, “As I study, do I ask myself whether I understand?”, “Should I go more quickly or more slowly?”, “If I don’t understand, do I ask why?”

Lastly, students build in a review and ask themselves, “What did I do right?”, “What could I do better?”, “Did my plan coincide with how I work with my strengths and weaknesses?”

Check out the website for more questions within each of the four steps.

When would you have students go through an exercise like this? Before a project or exam? At the beginning of the course?

I think for my own training scenario, I would have students go through an exercise like this before the course starts or at the beginning of the first class. I would then incorporate a group activity where they share with other students techniques that work for them. This can help other students adopt new techniques they haven’t tried before in learning.


Questioning Techniques – Purpose and Bloom’s Taxonomy

Why use Questioning in the Classroom?

Guy Claxton, Professor in Education and Director of CLIO Development University of Bristol (source: states that…

[q]uestioning enables teachers to check learners’ understanding. It also benefits learners as itencourages engagement and focuses their thinking on key concepts and ideas.

I agree with what Claxton is saying. Think back to being a student. What provoked you to think about something in a deeper way? When an educator asked questions, or when  he/she who lectured and made statements? It’s likely the former. As well, I find that by using questioning techniques, it makes for a more interactive class. No longer is the educator at the front of the room talking and filling the heads of students like a vessel.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Questioning Techniques

Bloom’s Taxonomy can provide you with guidance for the types of questions you can ask your students.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a pyramid that illustrates the levels of learning and thinking. Educators aim for higher levels of learning and thinking in their students, however, one should note that levels of learning and thinking at the bottom of the pyramid need to be present before students can move up the pyramid.

The table from the University of Victoria Counselling Services webpage ( gives a definition of each level and question cues.

If you’re more of an audiovisual learner, please check out this video:

To summarize these two sources, see the table below. I’ve also added examples to each.



Question Cue

Knowledge At this level, students are asked to recall factual information in an objective manner.For example, “List the document types that you can create in Google Docs.” list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, tabulate, quote, name, who, when, where, etc.
Comprehension At this level, students are asked to demonstrate their understanding of the information. This may include interpreting facts, predict consequences, and translate knowledge into new context.For example, “Differentiate between Spreadsheets and Fusion Tables in Google Docs.” summarize, describe, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend
Application At this levels, students are asked to use information, methods, concepts, theories in new situations. They may also be asked to solve problems.For example, “Relate the Two Factor motivational theory for job satisfaction to the educational setting.” apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify, experiment, discover
Analysis At this level, students use information to identify patterns or components, recognize hidden meanings, and organize part.For example, “Explain what the sample cross tabulation report is showing.” analyze, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, arrange, divide, compare, select, explain, infer
Synthesis At this level, students use old ideas to create new ones, generalize from given facts, relate knowledge from several areas, and draw conclusions.For example, “Prepare a plan of how you will use the software tool to support your business process.” combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, what if?, compose, formulate, prepare, generalize, rewrite
Evaluation At this level, students assess values of theories, makes choices based on reasoned argument, recognize subjectivity. The use of critical thinking is essential here.For example, “Recommend a solution for the business based on your assessment of related theories.” assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend, convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support, conclude, compare, summarize

From the table, as students are close to the top of the pyramid, they are move involved with knowledge and information.  However, there is value in questions at the lower level of the pyramid. They can help students build familiarity with course concepts before they move into synthesis and evaluation. There is an appropriate time for questions in each level in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

For example, if I as an educator have just introduced a new theory, I would not ask students to rank this theory against others (Evaluation) without ensuring that students comprehend the theory and others first.

For more posts about Questioning Techniques, click the Questioning Techniques category  in the sidebar.

Student Motivation: Changing our Approach and understanding Intrinisic Motivation

This journal entry focuses on motivation and takes a in-depth look at a statement made by Eric Jensen (in the Objective section), and also the speech made by Dan Pink in a TedTalks video.


“There is no such thing as an unmotivated student. There are, however, students in unmotivated states” — Eric Jensen.

In the Ted Talks video, Dan Pink shares his insight on motivation. Here’s the summary from the Ted Talks website:

If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. … But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.” (Dan Pink)


Upon reading the statement above, I thought, “Ah ha! What an empowering statement!”
Upon watching Dan Pink in the TedTalks video, I thought, “That comes as no surprise. I agree!”


With his statement, I believe Eric Jensen is conveying that if students are unmotivated, it isn’t of permanence or necessarily consistent with their character. Rather, being unmotivated is a state from which students can be moved. I relate it to the concept in physics about potential energy, (energy at rest), and kinetic energy, (energy in motion). To move something from the state of potential energy to kinetic energy, something has to change in the environment or an action needs to be taken upon the item in the potential state. Thus, I found the statement empowering: I, as an instructor, can build an appropriate environment or approach teaching in a way that sparks students to learn. This is important as motivation paired with active learning results in student engagement (Barkley, 2010, p.6) which results in increased knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development (Pascarella and Terenzini, 1999, as cited in Barkley, 2010, p.4).

Pairing what I’ve discovered from Jensen’s statement with Dan Pink’s talk about motivation, gives me a plan of action in motivating students (discussed in the Decisional section). Pink explained that incentives can do the opposite of what you want them to do if you are looking to motivate individuals to be creative and think beyond whatever task you have put in front of them . If I were to relate this to teaching, it would be akin to using “good grades” as an incentive for students to learn. For some students and some learning tasks, this may work, but they may not go beyond course material, gain insight from other sources, relate it to their own experiences, etc. They would do what was necessary to get the grades. I can relate to what Pink is saying. In my own teaching scenario, I am teaching clients to use a software tool in a business environment. They wouldn’t be motivated by grades. It also wouldn’t make sense for me to provide them with monetary incentive to learn, as I’d probably put my employer out of business. Something else needs to be done to move my students into a motivated state.

Pink mentions that motivation for creativity and use of cognitive ability needs to incorporate three factors:

  • Autonomy: the urge for individuals to direct their own lives.
  • Mastery: the desire to get better at something that matters.
  • Purpose: the desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

I concur with what Pink is saying. When training clients, I incorporate these three factors in my learning activities. In incorporating autonomy, when I train clients virtually on my company’s market research software tool, they are passed mouse control to complete learning tasks. I teach them the steps in the software, and repeat them if necessary; however, they are flying solo as the course progresses. I also ask them to work on their projects while taking the course so that they can immediately apply what they learn. They are responsible for their own education, their own projects, and their own successes.

Mastery is also incorporated. During the training sessions, there are discussions about how the learner’s success in learning the software tool translates into success in their jobs and for their companies. Their mastery of the tool means that they can rely on the tool when making million dollar decisions that can improve experiences for their own customers.

With respects to purpose, there are student discussions about how online research is a new area in the market research industry. The learners are part of a greater change that is taking place in their discipline; they are part pioneers. This relays to them that they are part of a larger movement.

These factors incorporated into the training program has resulted in many enthusiastic students. They are motivated to learn and to strive for success. However, based in my interpretations, I think more can be done in motivating my learners.


From my interpretation, I have identified that if I were to come upon a student in an unmotivated state, I would first need to check my perspective on the situation. I would need to recognize that being unmotivated is a state and that I have the resources to move them into a motivated one. I feel as though there should never be a point where there isn’t something I could do for my students. I would need to assess why they are unmotivated to learn. I will set up a meeting with my training team to discuss the adoption of this attitude and to set up guidelines for assessing such situations.

Taking what Dan Pink has said in the TedTalk video, I will need to adopt more instructional strategies that incorporate Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. One that comes to mind is the Jigsaw instructional strategy. This activity requires students to become experts on a topic and sharing this information with a group consisting of students who are experts on different but related topics. Learners are autonomous as they are in control of how they want to learn or present the information to the group. Mastery is accounted for as they need to be experts on their subject matter. Purpose is fulfilled in that they are part of something larger. In order to get a full picture of what is being learned, they are driven to learn from other members in their group and to teach the other members. The motivation lies in the learning activity itself.

Before I can adopt strategies like Jigsaw, I will need to research them. I will set time aside for my trainers (myself included) to research instructional strategies that satisfy the three mentioned factors. This may be through online resources (asking the Training & Development group on LinkedIn, watching YouTube videos, searching in Educational Databases, etc.) or a trip to the local library.

Although I feel the learners of my training program are motivated overall, there may be specific instances where they are not motivated. For example, they may be willing to learn in class, but they may not be motivated to complete assignments that would be beneficial to them. I will identify the areas where my learners are not motivated, and will develop strategies for approaching this issue. However, before we can do this, I think more research should be done on motivation.

Motivation has many theories and we can not rely solely on the one described by Pink. For instance, while studying for my Business degree, I had come upon a lot of theories about motivation. This includes Maslow’s Hierarchy, the Two Factor theory, etc. I believe some of these could be applied to teaching. I will ask my trainers to present a motivational theory in our next training seminar and to facilitate a discussion of it suitability.

Instructional Strategy for Creative Thinking: Reverse Brainstorming

The following video introduces the concept of Reverse Brainstorming in the context of business. However, the main concept can also be used in education.

I could see this instructional strategy being used for case studies, or small group discussions where a problem or challenge is posed.

According to Mindtools (source:, the steps in using Reverse Brainstorming are as follows:

  1. Clearly identify the problem or challenge, and write it down.
  2. Reverse the problem or challenge by asking:
    “How could I possibly cause the problem?”, or
    “How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?”.
  3. Brainstorm the reverse problem to generate reverse solution ideas. Allow the brainstorm ideas to flow freely. Do not reject anything at this stage.
  4. Once you have brainstormed all the ideas to solve the reverse problem, now reverse these into solution ideas for the original problem or challenge.
  5. Evaluate these solution ideas. Can you see a potential solution? Can you see attributes of a potential solution?

Let’s look at these steps in an example from my own teaching situation:

  • Step 1 & 2: My students often wonder how they can build engaging online surveys. Rather than asking, “How do I build an engaging survey?” they can ask instead, “How do I bore respondents so that they drop out of the survey?”
  • Step 3: Some possible solutions for the reversed problem are…
    • Visually boring questions
    • Same type of questions page after page
    • Question after question in the survey
  • Step 4: Reverse the solutions in Step 3 to solve the problem identified in Step 1:
    • Use Visually Rich Questions
    • Use a variety of questions. There are even varieties of the same type.
    • Consider using images, video, and pages with a sentence or two. These do not demand that your respondents answer questions.
  • Step 5: All of these solutions could be implemented to solve the problem posed in Step 1.


Creative Thinking & Adult Education

What is Creative Thinking?

Before we jump into the relationship of Creative Thinking to Adult Education, we should first define what Creative Thinking is. According to Infinite Innovations Ltd. (as cited from here:, “Creative thinking is the process which we use when we come up with a new idea. It is the merging of ideas which have not been merged before.”

Moving away from the abstract, here’s an example of Creative Thinking (Source:

3M chemists were experimenting with glues and accidentally came up with one that was so weak you could peel it right back off. A glue that won’t hold? Quite a problem. But this problem was also a solution, as it inspired the creation of Post-It Notes.

Pairing this example to the definition, we see the merging of two ideas: Paper and Weak Glue. We also see that the problem (weak glue) is an opportunity for innovation.

Creative thinking could also be seen as using something or a concept in an unordinary way. See the next image of binder clips used to organize wires.

Binder clips are intended to keep papers together, but here, it is used outside of what it is intended and is an effective solution for organization.

What are the benefits of Creative Thinking?

Here are some of the benefits of Creative Thinking according to the The Network of Public Sector Communicators (source:

  • Lets you explore new avenues of thought
  • investigates a wider range of solutions to the problem
  • allows everybody to contribute ideas
  • can lead to ground-breaking achievements
  • focuses on getting results

From what we’ve seen from the two examples, creative thinking allows us to become better problem solvers and to rise to the occasion when faced with a challenge. Tim Brown in his TedTalks speech about creativity and play supports this and states that the sense of play (i.e. creativity) helps us to get better solutions and do our jobs better.

By practicing creative thinking, students can transfer the skill and benefits out of the classroom and into their professional and everyday lives.

Instructional Strategies for Creative Thinking in Adult Education

To foster Creative Thinking in the classroom, the very first factor to consider is building a positive learning environment.  In his speech, Brown mentions that adults can be conservative with their ideas because they fear being judged. Look for posts about Positive Learning Environments by clicking on the Category in the sidebar.

Brown mentions the following for fostering creativity:

  • Exploration: Going for quantity over quality. For example, Brown asked his audience to fill up as many of the circles on a sheet of paper in a 30 second timeframe. It could be smiley faces, patterns, objects, etc. My interpretation of this is that quantity is key as it forces the participants to speed up and not think about whether the idea is feasible or not. Essentially, it is to lower any barriers to creative thinking.
  • Building and thinking with your hands: This typically involves making low-end prototypes out of ordinary objects. Brown gave the example of roll-on deodorant and the first commercial computer mouse for Apple Lisa and Macintosh.
  • Role playing: This can help us have more empathy. For instance, acting out the problem and solution and seeing how it works. Brown gives an example of how one individual wanted to understand the pain felt by chronic care patients and had his chest waxed.

Role playing is used primarily in my virtual training sessions. For example, I teach students about creating forums, and reading reports. However, there is a module of the course where the students need to go through what the experience is like for their forum participants. The purpose of this module is so that my students can empathize and understand what that experience is like for their intended audience so that they can focus on building an engaging forum.

Looking for more instructional strategies that foster creative thinking? Try this website: It lists Assumption busting techniques, brainstorming, Edison’s Idea File, Koinonia (Generate by brainstorming with others in your field), Lateral Thinking, The Lotus Blossom Approach, Mind Maps, Introduce a Random Element, Reverse Brainstorming, and Scamper. Some of these techniques will be discussed in later posts. To pull up all posts about Creative Thinking, click the Creative Thinking Category in the sidebar.

MetaCognition – What is it? What’s its use in Adult Education?

What is Metacognition?

According to Jennifer A. Livingston (source:, ” Metacognition refers to higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning. Activities such as planning how to approach a given learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating progress toward the completion of a task are metacognitive in nature.” Essentially, it’s thinking about thinking.

Dave Mitchell, Founder of the Leadership Difference, briefly explains what metacognition is in the following video.

To summarize, he states that it’s the process of thinking about how things become part of long term memory, so that it can be recalled and transformed into knowledge.

Psychology and Society (source: gives four examples of metacognition:

  1. A person learns about his or her own style of learning.
  2. A person learns about what things help him or her to remember facts, names, and events.
  3. A person becomes aware of his or her own biases in judging others.
  4. A person learns about what strategies are the most effective in solving certain problems.   

How do you Incorporate Metacognitive Strategies in the Classroom?

Dr. Saundra McGuire (in the video above)advises that to promote Metacognitive abilities in students, we can ask students to….

  • come up with analogies in everyday life that relate to course concepts
  • develop an approach to teach the content
  • specify the learning strategies they will apply to learn the material

Do some of these points remind you of something? It certainly reminded me of the Jigsaw Strategy discussed previously as Jigsaw requires that students come up with an approach to teaching a topic to their classmates.

In my own virtual classrooms, I like to use scenario-based questions in helping me develop metacognition in learners. For example, an instructor may ask a student the following question, “Your colleague needs a report that would provide a cross-section of information. How would you approach creating and sharing this report with your colleague?” These questions aren’t the metacognitive part of the activity. The metacognitive part of the activity would be the instructor asking aftewards, “What was your approach in solving this scenario? Why did you approach it this way? What does it tell you about how you learn? What previous experiences have guided you to approach it in this way?”

Journalling would be an an excellent mode for this activity as it requires students to reflect deeply about their learning styles.

Another thing educators can do is to provide students with quizzes about learning styles such as this one: These tests let students know if they are primarily visual, aural, reader/writer, or kinesthetic type learners. Once such a test is taken, the educator can empower students and ask them to be aware of how they plan to learn course concepts based on their learning style. For example, let’s say that in my own classroom, I asked my students to create an analogy for different forms of sampling in market research. Based on what students have learned about their learning styles from the the quiz, they can either create a drawing depicting their metaphor, tell a story, write a short journal entry, or act out their metaphor in a skit — this coincides with visual, aural, reader/writer, and kinesthetics.

Benefits of Developing Metacognition in Adult Learners

According to Dr.Saundra McGuire in the video above, metacognition means that students are active learners rather than passive learners. We know the benefits of that from previous posts. She also implies that it empowers students as they have more control over their learning process.

Using Multiple Instructional Strategies to enhance Critical Thinking

An instructional strategy for critical thinking would involve the elements discussed in the table in the last post. You will likely find that many instructional strategies incorporate critical thinking.Consider the strategies found here:

You may even combine instructional strategies for a single activity to maximize the use of critical thinking.

For example,

  1. pose a multi-logical question to the class.
  2. Ask students to start a journal entry and to jot down their initial stance. You may even ask them to incorporate a statement related to reflective self-criticism.
  3. Place students in groups and have them research articles, academic journals, and other information sources on the subject matter. Give them time outside of class to conduct this task. Ask them to find articles that opposes and supports their stance.
  4. Ask students to trade articles with one another group and have them go through an activity of analyzing bias in the information sources. You may even provide them with a worksheet like this one to help with the activity:
  5. In their groups, ask students to discuss the many perspectives and what sources support or oppose the views. Encourage Socratic questioning, and reasoning emphatically.
  6. Ask students to write a follow-up journal entry about their stance after being exposed to more information and after the group activity. Also ask them how their perspective has changed whether it has grown stronger or weaker and why. Ask them to document their thought process during the activity.

This activity incorporates the following instructional strategies:  discussion, Group work (collaborative learning), and journaling.

It also satisfy the criteria of critical thinking discussed in the last post:

  • Socratic Questioning: Present in groupwork where students are asked to discuss and probe the differing perspectives.
  • Co-operative Learning: Groupwork!
  • Multi-logical issues: The question posed at the beginning of the activity.
  • Reasoned Judgement: In the journaling activity and can also be expected in the groupwork.
  • Reflective Self-Criticism: Present in the journaling activity.
  • Recognizing Bias in Media: Present where information sources are analyzed for credibility.
  • Reasoning Empathetically: Present in groupwork.

If you may have noticed, these activities also promote active learning and contain elements of intrinsic motivation (Mastery, Purpose, and Autonomy).

Want to learn more about journaling? Check out this digital presentation created by one of my classmates:

by: Richard1.Leach

The Jigsaw Method discussed earlier also has the ability to satisfy the factors for critical thinking! As an educator we would need to pose a multi-logical question for the activity, and to provide each expert group with different perspectives to be researched. In their expert groups, students would analyze their sources for bias. When in the Jigsaw Groups, students would engage in Socratic questioning, Reasoned Judgement, and Reasoning Empathetically.

Click on the Critical Thinking category in the sidebar for more posts about this topic!