How Learning Works

Michael Starbird, Provost's Teaching Fellow, shares his insights about what matters most in teaching.

7 Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching

Marsha Lovett introduces the general principles of learning, distilled from the research literature as well as from experience working with college faculty. She describes the paradigm shift where the teacher perspective changes from "How do we teach?" to "How do students learn?"

“Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.”

Herbert Simon
Nobel Laureate

Principle 1 - Activate Prior Knowledge

"As we teach, we often try to enhance our students' understanding of the course content by connecting it to their knowledge and experiences from earlier in the same course, from previous courses, or from everyday life."

Susan Ambrose et al. (2010)

Learn More about activating prior knowledge.


In the coming months, we will expand this portion of the website with evidence-based resources about human learning 

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Principle 1

Activate Prior Knowledge

Reading List

Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C. Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Jossey-Bass.