How Humans Learn: Sociality

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on sociality.

Eyler states early in this chapter that “it is not a stretch to say that much of what makes us human stems directly from our sociality” (p. 66). The absence of social interaction can contribute to physical pain or health issues. As we socialize, there is a strong instinct for imitating what we see in others; this imitating process can help (and will often inspire) learning to take place. The social interaction of playing can help increase an understanding of concepts and social dynamics. Maria Montessori, a pioneer of children education, stressed that learning among young children develops between the interaction of the group.

In education of all ages, the classroom environment can contribute to a sense of belonging. Eyler quotes the research of David Yeager and Gregory Walton: “If students feel more secure in their belonging in school, they may approach others in the academic environment more and with more positive attitudes, building better relationships, reinforcing their feelings of belongs, and laying the groundwork for later academic success” (p. 85).

As instructors, we can foster sociality with classroom management. For Eyler, this is less about monitoring behavior and more about establishing ground rules for discussions, especially with potentially sensitive subjects. We can also model this in our behavior, sharing a variety of perspectives, citing sources in discussions and presentations, and in trying to engage with students as individuals during class discussions. If we use group projects, we can try designing projects that are less divide-and-conquer the responsibilities and more of students gathering evidence and bringing it together.

As the chapter closes, Eyler highlights an educational role-playing game Reacting to the Past and encourages using group activities and discussions, even if it means there’s less time to deliver content. “Let’s think about choosing content carefully as a way to help our students develop a framework for thinking about the discipline” (106-107). Instead of focusing on cramming so much content into our courses, how can we help students, especially those looking for a general degree requirement, make broader connections to our fields of study?

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