Learning Gets Personal

I am taking a summer course on Universal Design for Learning, and I’ve been asked to share a personal story about my experience as a learner. I am not huge on sharing personal stories, but I think this will be fun to write:

When I was working on my graduate certificate in the Mind, Brain, and Teaching, we were asked to read about learning styles and take a stand on a controversial topic relating to neuroscience and education. Many topics in education and neuroscience are controversial because of the looooooooooong bridge linking the two disciplines.

As may be expected, this ambiguity creates a space for lively debate on the relationship between neuroscience and education.

According to the assignment, we would study the topics during class and debate the issue the following week. During class time, students were allowed to discuss the issue with one another and read several academic articles (as well as our text) in order to solidify our points of view. I’m more of an observer than an active participant, so I listened to the discussion. To my dismay, it seemed that everyone in the class was taking the opposite side from me on the topic. As a result, I dreaded the thought of attending class the next week when the live debate would commence, and it would be ME against the entire class.

The “what” of my learning: Since the neuroscience material was completely new, I reviewed it carefully in order to form a coherent argument supporting my [very unpopular] opinion. I looked for other credible material that supported my thoughts, and formed what I thought was a credible argument for my side of the story. The material was interesting, but it was written for scientists, not for educators, so I could not weave it into my current base of knowledge. I felt that I understood my own point of view, but I could not convey it to others—much less debate it with others! I felt pressured to learn the neuroscience “language” in the span of a couple of days, just so I could convey my point of view.

The “how” of my learning: The material for this assignment engaged me and encouraged active learning, but only from the perspective of survival, lol. I was not offered choices in delivery options for the material—it was academic article or textbook. I thought many times that it would have been a lot easier for me to just take the side of my other classmates.

The “depth” of my learning: I was certainly encouraged to seek more and raise questions in this experience. But it wasn’t clear to me until after the experience that the instructor would have been a valuable source of information.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Universal Design for Learning (and any learning design) can be stymied by students who lack agency. If a student does not call for help, how can an instructor know they need it?
  2. Learning in a different nomenclature and style might be comparable to learning in a different language altogether, which research has demonstrated to be a barrier to student learning (Meyer and Rose, 2005).
  3. Debate is an effective way to learn a topic thoroughly and get students emotionally involved (Kanuka, 2004; Kanuka, Roarke, and LaFlamme, 2007; Meyer and Rose, 2005). The fact that I have a story to tell is because this was a debate—not a test (easy) or a paper (easier).

In the end, the debate was pretty theatrical with me and two other students against the whole class. The instructor took our side and provided the bridge between the neuroscience arguments we tried to make and the education discipline. We could not have been coherent without teacher support.


Kanuka, Heather (2011). Interaction and the online distance classroom: Do instructional methods effect the quality of interaction? Journal of Computing in Higher Education , 23 (2), 143-156.

Kanuka, Heather, Roarke, Liam, & Laflamme, Elaine (2007). e The Influence of Instructional Methods on the Quality of Online Discussion. British Journal of Educational Technology , 38 (2), 260-271.

Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (2005). The future is in the margins: The role of technology and disability in educational reform. In D. H. Rose, A. Meyer & C. Hitchcock (Eds.), The universally designed classroom: Accessible curriculum and digital

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One Response to Learning Gets Personal

  1. Joan Kester says:

    Thanks for thinking so deeply about this personal learning experience. It is interesting how your view changed about your willingness to engage in the dissonance. Can you remember what might have changed in the environment to encourage you to take the risk?

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