The Learning Process

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How do you know you are learning?

Introducing a common understanding of the learning process is necessary but not sufficient for students to know themselves as learners.

We approach this in two ways

The Structured Overview of Learning Outcomes, SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982), provides a common understanding of the learning process through an overview of cognitive learning outcomes. We have introduced this taxonomy to schools with students from 5 to 18 years of age.

SOLO provides criteria that identify the increasing complexity of student performance for understanding when mastering new learning (Biggs 1999, p.37). It is content independent and thus is useful as a generic measure of understanding across different disciplines. In our experience teachers using SOLO can easily, and reliably identify ascending cognitive complexity in individual and collective student learning outcomes.

SOLO describes five levels of student understanding, Refer Figure below.


Figure: Structured of Observed Learning Outcomes after Biggs and Collis (1982)

At the //prestructural level// of understanding, the student response shows they have missed the point of the new learning. At the //unistructural level,// the learning outcome shows understanding of one aspect of the task, but this understanding is limited. For example, the student can label, name, define, identify, or follow a simple procedure. At the //multistructural level,// several aspects of the task are understood but their relationship to each other, and the whole is missed. For example, the student can list, define, describe, combine, match, or do algorithms. At the //relational level,// the ideas are linked, and provide a coherent understanding of the whole. Student learning outcomes show evidence of comparison, causal thinking, classification, sequencing, analysis, part whole thinking, analogy, application and the formulation of questions. At the //extended abstract level,// understanding at the relational level is re-thought at a higher level of abstraction, it is transferred to another context). Student learning outcomes at the extended abstract level show prediction, generalisation, evaluation, theorizing, hypothesising, creation, and or reflection.

Educators and students can use SOLO to define curriculum objectives that describe different levels of understanding and, for evaluating individual and collective student learning outcomes. SOLO makes it possible to determine the cognitive complexity of individual student understanding and, to determine where to target new learning experiences and interventions, (that may or may not integrate ICT). SOLO has several advantages over Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy (Bloom 1965) in designing differentiated learning experiences for deeper understanding. One advantage is that SOLO is based upon a theory about teaching and learning rather than a theory about knowledge, (Hattie and Brown, 2004). A second advantage lies in SOLO’s facility in enabling both student and educator to understand and evaluate learning experiences and learning outcomes in terms of ascending cognitive complexity. If SOLO is aligned to the design of learning experiences and their assessment, then both teacher and/or student can target desired cognitive learning outcomes with specific thinking interventions Table 1 illustrates how interventions can align to SOLO coded student learning outcome.


Table 1: Cognitive domain categories, thinking interventions, and student learning outcomes, as described by the SOLO Taxonomy .

Using visual symbols to represent levels of understanding in SOLO means that coding for complexity of thinking can be undertaken by both student and teacher, allowing “where should we go next?” decisions and thinking interventions to more accurately target student learning needs.

RTENOTITLE Pam Hook September 2008

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