Prensky on Pedagogy

The talk of assessment of student learning outcomes has well established the important connection between student learning outcomes and coursework. It is essential that coursework prepare students for and ultimately give them an opportunity to demonstrate and master.

What has been overlooked has been the connection to outcomes and objectives—that is, how we teach what we want students the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors in a particular course or module.

Tucked away in Marc Prensky’s 2001 book, Digital Game-based Learning, is an excellent overview of the diverse means by which students should be taught. 

For Prensky: 

  • We learn facts through questions, memorization, association, and drill.
  • We learn skills (physical or mental) through imitation, feedback, continuous practice, and increasing challenge.
  • We learn judgment through hearing stories, asking questions, making choices, and getting feedback and coaching.
  • We learn behaviors through imitation, feedback, and practice.
  • We learn processes through explanation and practice.
  • We learn about existing theories through logical explanation and questioning.
  • We learn to create and test theories through experimentation and questioning.
  • We learn reasoning through puzzles and examples.
  • We learn procedures through imitation and practice.
  • We learn creativity through playing.
  • We learn language through imitation, practice, and immersion.
  • We learning programming and other systems through principles and graduated tasks.
  • We learn observation through examples, doing, and feedback.
  • We learn speeches or performance roles by memorization, practice, and coaching.
  • We learn the behavior of dynamic systems by observation and experimentation.
  • We learn grammar through—how do we learn grammar?

The first thing to notice is how often practice occurs. It suggests that, whatever you are teaching, you might want to consider having students spend more time practicing what you are teaching. 

Learning effective research and information literacy skills, for example, is not something that can occur over the course of one research paper or maybe even in one semester. Students need the opportunity to go through the process many times before they will acquire the habit of academic research.

As Prensky admits, his list is not designed to be exhaustive or authoritative, but it does go a long way to illustrating the connection between the what and the how of teaching.