How can one assess learning?

Too many times in benjamin-franklin-tell-me-and-ill-forget-teach-me-and-ill-remember-involve-me-and-ill-250x204my life as a student I have sat through a course, memorized the material, wrote exams and moved on to the next course. It is not that I did not learn anything, just not very much. I would have learned some broad ideas about the topic, and maybe a new approach to solve problems. And that can sometimes be good enough.

During my PIDP courses, I have been thinking a lot about “learning”. If the goal is to create a student centred learning environment, how can I know that learning is actually going on?

I have been reading Ken Bain’s ” What the Best College Teachers Do?”. In it, Bain gives wonderful insight into how to put the odds on our side that the students are learning.

1- Knowledge is construed and not received: Good teachers understand that all new material is filtered through each student’s mental models where they try to comprehend it in terms of what they already know. The job of the teacher is not to transmit knowledge but to provide opportunities for students to build new mental models.

2- Mental models change slowly: Good teachers give students the opportunity to try their own new thinking, fall short, receive feedback, and try again.

3- Good teachers encourage their students to come up with their own set of questions, beyond the questions that are already set forth for the course.

4-Most importantly, students have to care about what they are learning. Good teachers are always ready to answer “WGAD”-“Who gives a damn?” Because people learn naturally when it comes to solving problems that concern them.

It does make sense that deep learning can only happen when the student is invested in the process. In my Business Law course, I will keep working hard at personalizing the content for my students, taking the material out of the theoretical realm and into people’s everyday lives. After reading Bain, I have some good questions to ask myself as I teach a course.


Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.

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