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What is Generative Learning?

What is Generative Learning?

4 min read
  • The science of learning

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, one approach that has been gaining significant attention is Generative Learning. This powerful method can transform your teaching practice and enhance your students’ learning experiences. Read on to learn more about:

  • Generative Learning
  • The Generative Learning Framework
  • Strategies to implement Generative Learning in your classroom

What is Generative Learning?

Grounded in Cognitive Science, Generative Learning is a method that encourages students to actively generate information and make connections between new and existing knowledge. This active participation in the learning process promotes a deeper understanding of the material, fosters long-term retention of knowledge and cultivates critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities. The magic lies in the “generation” process, where learners actively make sense of the material, rather than passively receiving information.

What is the Generative Learning Framework?

A recent paper proposed a new Generative Learning Framework that revolves around three key cognitive processes:

  • Explaining – This encourages learners to articulate their understanding of new information in their own words. When students explain ideas aloud or in writing, they’re not just regurgitating facts. Instead, they’re actively processing and internalising the material.
  • Visualising – This involves creating mental or physical images to represent new information. Research shows that visualisation aids memory retention and deepens understanding.
  • Enacting – This involves physically performing or simulating an activity. When students enact what they’re learning, they engage multiple senses, which can boost memory and understanding.

These three processes represent three unique functions for learning – explaining generalises your students’ knowledge, visualising organises it, and enacting helps simulate it. So, how can these be used to improve your students’ learning?

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8 ways to promote Generative Learning in your classroom

Generative Learning Activities are a crucial component of effective learning. These activities place students at the centre of the learning process, requiring them to actively engage with the material, foster critical thinking, solve problems and produce original work, therefore facilitating deeper understanding and retention.

1. Self-explaining

The most common type of Generative Learning Activity is self-explaining. In this activity, students generate clarifying and elaborative statements to themselves, for which research has found positive results.

This process allows learners to articulate their understanding and identify any gaps in their knowledge, promoting critical thinking and comprehension. Self-explanation can therefore also be used as a revision tool by your students.

2. Learning by teaching

This is where students generate explanations intended for others.

This leads to what is known as the “Protégé Effect”, where someone puts in more effort to organise and learn information when they know they’re going to teach it to someone else. This method not only reinforces your students’ understanding but also helps them develop communication and teaching skills.

3. Comparing and predicting

In comparing, students explain similarities between different concepts or phenomena, fostering their ability to draw connections and identify patterns.

Predicting, on the other hand, involves testing explanations, which allows your students to apply their knowledge in a practical context and receive immediate feedback on their understanding.

4. Drawing

Drawing requires students to generate external visuals that depict physical structures and their relationships, helping them better understand and remember these concepts.

This relates to what is known as the “Production Effect”, where doing something with the material they are studying helps students increase the chances of ingraining it into their long-term memory. By making something with the material, your students actively engage in strengthening the connections in their brain, as opposed to passively letting it wash over them.

5. Mapping

Mapping involves spatially arranging text to convey abstract conceptual relationships. Recent research has found mapping to be a beneficial revision technique. This could involve creating a graphic organiser or constructing concept maps to spatially arrange key relationships described in science texts.

Other common variations of mapping include generating sequence diagrams, hierarchies and matrices. These visual aids can significantly enhance your students’ ability to grasp complex relationships and ideas.

6. Imagining

This concept involves generating an internal visual representation of physical structures or conceptual relationships – in other words, forming a mental image. By visualising these structures in their mind’s eye, your students can deepen their understanding and recall of these concepts.

7. Gesturing

Gesturing means using one’s hands to map concepts or strategies onto one’s body. Research has found that gesturing not only has the power to reflect a student’s understanding of a problem, but also to change that understanding.

Another related activity is finger tracing, where students trace key elements of learning materials with their finger. This physical interaction can help reinforce the material in your students’ brains.

8. Manipulating

This strategy involves moving physical or virtual objects to represent concepts or strategies. By physically interacting with the material, learners can gain a more concrete understanding of abstract concepts.

Final thoughts

Generative Learning helps students construct their own understanding and apply their knowledge in meaningful ways. The above suggestions offer practical guidelines on how to do so. As a result, your students will hopefully learn faster and deeper.

This is just one of the many areas of Teaching & Learning that Cognitive Science can transform in your school or college. The best way to engage with it? Join the Teacher CPD Academy. Plus, we’re offering free trials…


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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