I just stumbled upon Making Sense of Generative Learning by Fiorella, L. Making Sense of Generative Learning. Educ Psychol Rev 35, 50 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-023-09769-7. It’s free to read and published under a Creative Commons license.
The article explores how people learn through doing (generative learning activities – GLAs). The author suggests three key ways that learners make sense of material: explaining, visualizing, and enacting. In other words, learners have to make the knowledge their own in some way. They should DO something.
As the author points out “some learning contexts may be less appropriate than others for specific types of GLAs”. I think this is an especially valuable and appropriate article for those who are creating learning and professional development experiences for leaders.
The author also introduces a new framework for generative sense-making.
According to the author, here are three ways people can make better sense of new material.
- Explaining: This means making sense of the material by talking or writing about it in one’s own words, aiming to connect new information to what one already knows. This can also include accessing schema, linking what you already know to the new information. What learners might say, “It’s kind of like…” or “This reminds me of…” Online learning forums are a great way to get learners to share their understanding of new ideas provided you have created a safe enough space. Forums allow time for processing new information whereas in-person, live sessions do not.
- Visualizing: This involves creating mental (in your head) or physical (on paper) pictures to represent information. It’s about organizing information in a way that makes it clearer and easier to understand. Mind maps or relational maps can be drawn individually or in small groups in live sessions online or in class. Using Lego or other building material can also be used to visualize concepts.
- Enacting: This is about physically acting out or using gestures to understand and remember and understand concepts. It’s like when you use your hands to describe something or act out a concept to get a better grasp of it. Role plays can fall under this activity as can adaptations of family sculpting and Oshrey’s Organization Workshop. Walking and talking to someone, or thinking or even the act of getting up and moving around while puzzling through ideas can enhance generative learning.
Fiorella argues that these three methods work together to help someone deeply understand new things. For instance, picturing something in your mind or drawing it can make explaining it easier. However, not everyone will use these methods effectively without a little help or even some external motivation. The author points out that learners might need the right kind of advice, instructions, direction, or even modeling or demonstrations to make the best use of these activities. Plus, the material itself needs to be suitable for the learner’s level. If something is too easy or too hard, these methods might not work as well.
So, when you’re learning something new, there are a few techniques to make it stick. Explaining it in your own words (to yourself or to others), draw it out, or you can act it out. These methods can improve your retention and understanding and in turn make it more likely that you will successfully transfer your learning into your work.
If you’re creating learning experiences for others, it’s important to include these types of activities. Just be ready to provide support and guidance to help learners succeed in these activities.