How People Learn

a two-quarter, half-time program (8 credits per quarter)
offered fall 2006 through winter 2007

Allen Olson
Sem2 B2108
OlsonA <at>

Meeting times: all day on Saturdays (from 9:00 to 4:30)
Meeting place: New Location Sem2 B1107 New Location

Program Web Sites:


What does recent research tell us about how people learn? How can teaching be informed by the science of learning? Is there evidence to support the current emphasis of contructivist educational philosophies? Where did these philosophies come from?

These questions and more will be addressed through readings, seminars, and workshops. During the fall quarter, the philosophy and psychology of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and others was investigated in light of recent summaries of educational research produced by the National Research Council and other research in cognitive science and the learning sciences.

During winter quarter, we will review the major theories of learning, continue to discuss constructivism, investigate the impact of identity and culture on learning, and continue to develop and critique models of how people learn.

Web technologies such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and course delivery software are used and evaluated from a pedagogical perspective.

Class Structure

All-day Saturday classes can be difficult to use effectively—an interesting observation for a class about how people learn! In general, the class will be structured into a morning session and an afternoon session.

One session will typically involve seminars, lectures, and workshops focused on the weeks readings. The other session will typically be focused on practicing learning by experiencing designed instruction on specific topics. Such sessions will end with an assessment of student learning and a whole-class discussion of the issues of teaching and learning involved.

In addition to the in-class work, students will be expected to make use of web technologies or face-to-face study groups during the week to remind themselves of what has been learned, enhance their learning, and prepare for the next class. This mid-week work is essential for the success of a Saturday-only program.


There will be a wide variety of readings in this class, from rather straightforward explanations of learning to more involved philosophical musings about learning. Even though we will learn that reading is not always the best way to learn, students in the class should be prepared to learn a majority of the class content through critical, analytical reading. We will give considerable time to making sense of both the content and implications of the readings, but there is no getting around the fact that the readings will have to be read.

Fall quarter readings:

Winter quarter readings:

And half the class will read
while the other half of the class reads

Winter Reading Schedule