A Few Lessons I Learned about Learning

I recently had occasion to reflect on what I concluded about teaching from my own years sitting under it. As I enter more teaching roles, I have to ask myself, “What makes for good learning?”

  1. Learning is ultimately a mystery, because so little of what I do, so little of what I think I know, is traceable to “aha” moments. Nonetheless, teachers who applied appropriate methods really were more effective, particularly when it came to writing tests. Just because learning is a mystery doesn’t mean there’s no connection between the skill of a teacher and the learning outcomes of his or her students.
  2. Instead of aha moments, my education was, I think, a long initiation into a conversation that started long before I came along and will continue long after I’m gone. The initiation taught me the kinds of arguments and evidences that count as contributions. It taught me which voices were most important in that conversation both now and in the past. It also taught me where to go to look for their contributions. I know intuitively when someone is playing by the “rules” of the biblical studies game—but only because I listened and listened and listened for years. I’ll add that listening to the expositions of my long-time pastor, who was himself “in the game,” also had an immeasurably impact on me.
  3. A lot of things I was taught—and faithfully regurgitated for tests—didn’t really sink in until later, sometimes years later. As I began to see this, I began to think that education is about building connections among the things one learns at the base of Blooom’s taxonomy (1. remember, 2. understand). Peers played a key role here: friends who had made those connections slightly before I was able to were able to lead me to see them because they could easily remember what it was like not to know them. The “curse of knowledge” made it difficult for some teachers to bring me along at points. They couldn’t remember what it was like to be as ignorant as I was!
  4. Back to writing tests: I did feel that the teachers who had clear ideas of what kinds of skills I needed by the end of the course were better at measuring the outcome of their instruction. And those who worked up the ladder of Bloom’s taxonomy rather than staying on the lowest rung were better, too. Thankfully, I had a lot of good teachers.
  5. I do think that D.A. Carson was right when he said his students don’t remember what he taught them so much as what he was excited about. Therefore, I am certain that my students in the future will remember things about my wife, KJV-Onlyism, Stanley Fish, and ultimate frisbee.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

2 thoughts on “A Few Lessons I Learned about Learning”

  1. I think you are correct. I am finding at my now advanced age that I am finally getting some of the things I learned forty years ago. (I may be a slow learner, don’t despair!) There is a kind of “end of life crisis” in this — I could wish for another two or three lifetimes to really be able to apply what I now know!

    Seriously, though, learning is a lifetime experience. I really appreciate many teachers (some of whom we shared, amazingly enough) and continue to profit by constant study. I just pray it will benefit others as I pass it along.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. I suspect recall is a large part of learning. There is evidence that students given end of week tests regularly learn more than those who are study the same material regularly.

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