Meaningful learning experiences

It’s been an interesting week and I have felt challenged by my reading and interactions with colleagues in my university studies.  I am someone who is fortunate enough to be very metacognitive in my own learning.  I am always conscious of my thoughts and thought-processes, and how I am interacting with academic stimuli.  I can’t say that I have always been like this but when I studied educational psychology, in first year of my bachelor degrees, I learned a lot about constructivism and metacognition, how the brain works and how it develops.  It was this knowledge that drove me to understand my own learning processes at a much deeper level.  That course changed my life, and many learning experiences have continued to effect me profoundly since.  What kind of learning experience are most effective?  Meaningful learning experiences.

Reading Howland, Jonassen and Marra (2012), a lot resonated with me about the dimensions of meaningful learning that are identified.  The authors share the figure below to outline the characteristics of meaningful learning.  As a teacher in the 21st century, I have become more and more conscious of providing students with learning experiences that are authentic and ‘real-world’ relevant to them.  I believe this falls under the ‘Active’ part of these characteristics because the real-world relevance of content and activities is observable to students.  I guess its like the saying: “Seeing is believing”.  If students see the relevancy of something they are learning in the real world, then they are engaging in a meaningful learning experience.

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So, where does technology fit in with this idea of meaningful learning?  Howard, Jonassen and Marra (2012) say this: “Technologies need to engage learners in articulating and representing their understanding, not that of teachers.” (p. 4).  That’s it!  There is always so much debate about how to appropriately integrate technology with schools and classrooms, however, now is the time to ensure you are knowledgable and skilled when it comes to engaging learners in utilising ICT and be prepared to let go of the reigns a little bit more.

How I make learning experiences meaningful?

Active (manipulative/observant) – I like to get my students to manipulate their understanding of a topic and recreate/re-represent it in another form to show the depth of their understanding.  For example, the demonstrate their knowledge of orchestral instruments, I have gotten them to rewrite the information in the form of a first person introduction.  This category of meaningful learning is similar to constructive in a way.

Constructive (articulative/reflective) – I have always valued time set aside to critically reflect on what I have learned.  I always try to encourage my own students to reflect before they begin engaging in a new learning experience and then again afterward so that they can learn to understand their own learning processes and how they learn.  In this area, I have encouraged students to keep an eportfolio or diary of SMART goals in order to regularly reflect on their learning, using scaffolded apps like Tools 4 Students.

Cooperative (collaborative/conversational) – The benefit of Google Apps and an LMS like Moodle is that collaboration and conversation online can be easier set up.  Students in my classes have frequently used Google docs to write a document together and I have had a lot of experience as a student and teacher with discussion forums.  I find that students really do start thinking more critically and deeply in collaborative and conversational environments, inspired by others, and perhaps competing with others.

Authentic (complex/contextualised) – PBL units of work are a fantastic way to create learning experiences that are authentic.  In my previous school, all PBL had to be embedded in real-world relevant topics and activities.  Their PBL units of work would often culminate in a product that would be entered into a competition or be used in a public showcase.  Video products are a great way to disseminate information and have long-lasting physical evidence of the learning.

Intentional (goal directed/regulatory) – having learning outcomes explicitly stated and visible is a great way to help students become goal directed and to encourage them to regulate their learning by checking for outcomes achieved.  In online learning, I always try to include outcomes for each section of learning developed.

I will continue to reflect on the model proposed as I seek to always create meaningful learning experiences for those I work with.


Howland, J. L., Jonassen, D. H., & Marra, R. M. (2012). Chapter 1: What is meaningful learning? In Meaningful learning with technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


2 thoughts on “Meaningful learning experiences

  1. Hi Kristina,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog this week in regards to what is true authentic meaningful learning experiences. You are indeed reflective, which is fabulous and an excellent role model for your students.
    For me – I reflected this meaningful learning experiences over three different groups of learners –
    Early childhood (0-6 years of age): Educators must follow the children’s interests, their lives, reflect on the world around them; engage in information which is relevant and important to them. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) encapsulates the whole child and paths the ways as well as supporting the partnerships between the families and the early childhood service.
    Primary school aged children: Working within the syllabus, it is still essential on the overall needs and interests of each individual student. For example, when introducing new topics; Earth and soil erosion… it’s important to tap into the existing knowledge; what do the students already know, where to next? What scaffolding is needed and so forth. Students should be actively participating, brainstorming and collaborating in small groups, in pairs and in large groups their thoughts and ideas, predicting and hypothesising.
    Higher Education students (TAFE/University age groups): I am presently looking at the variety of learning styles and different background’s in which my students come from. For example; international students with limited to excellent English as a second language, mature and just out of school age groups and number of students with additional needs; hearing loss and mild autism. I find myself starting my lessons with discussions and brainstorming. Group work and online forums as well as podcasts are also very useful, this allows students to work at their own pace and read other’s interpretations of course content.
    I always start my lecture and tutorial with an overarching question, as well as a set of learning outcomes for the particular lesson. Throughout the lesson, I re-visit these outcomes so that the students are able to continue to see how the outcomes are fitting in with the work content. This provides more depth and ensures that the lesson is relevant/has meaning to the context.
    I spent time reflecting many of the readings which were presented to us over the week. Howland, Jonassen & Marra (2012), the frameworks for 21st Century Learning and the importance of Understanding by Design (UbD).
    I was able to relate to the UbD and enjoyed refreshing myself with the three stages and working through the sub sections. I believe through using an UbD students are more engaged with meaningful experiences and teachers are more accountable; they drill down to what the students should be using and how they can become engaged with technology tools. Teacher are now seen as facilitators and therefore the technological tools and other forms of work we offer our students must engage them and demonstrate how the subject content can ‘fits in’ and represent their understanding, and not that of the teacher.

  2. What a brilliant summary, however, what about high school students? I love to read about how students’ brains develop because even though they are only halfway through their development when I see them in high school, so many mindsets and habits are already in place. Creating a meaningful learning experience in high school is often about stepping back and letting them go, self-directing themselves, however, they do not yet have all the skills and capabilities to do so oftentimes and it is a catch 22. High school students long for independence and to have the freedom to self-direct and regulate their learning, but lack the maturity for the most part to do this. Where can the middle road meet and the balance be reached for all involved?

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