Learning Intentions

I have been worrying about Learning Intentions for a quarter of a century. Occasionally I discreetly ask someone I trust to explain them to me again. I get:

  1. There is only one correct way of doing Learning Intentions.
  2. Everyone’s way of doing Learning Intentions is different.

So for 25 years I have been jumping through a hoop. I write them up, they copy them down. My Learning Intentions haven’t made learning more efficient.

But now I think I get it. I was re-reading Daniel Willingham’s book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”  

“For material to be learned (that is, to end up in long-term memory), it must reside for some period in working memory – that is, a student must pay attention to it.” p49

The learning intention is what you want the learners to pay attention to.

For example – you are teaching Newton’s second law:

Investigating Newton's second law of motion

There is a lot to pay attention to here. Is the string running smoothly? WIll the card travel through the light-gate? Will the weights hit the floor before the card goes through the light-gate? Who is resetting the timer? Where did that weight go?

Were those things what you wanted your learners to pay attention to?

Here’s what I think you might want your learner to pay attention to:

  • What is the relationship between the weight and acceleration?
  • What is the relationship between the weights and the force?
  • Is the weight part of the mass in F=ma, or is it just the trolley?
  • Does adding a weight change the overall mass?
  • How is the computer calculating the acceleration?

… and probably not all of the above. In my experience, learners don’t pay attention to the right things without plenty of encouragement and plenty of reminders.

“If you don’t pay attention to something, you can’t learn it!” p43

The Learning Intention reminds you to be explicit: it says: pay attention to this.

Apologies to everyone who has been trying to tell me this for years.


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