By Antonia Rudenstine

These days, it seems like a lot of folks are talking about learning strategies. 

When we ask people what they mean by learning strategies, we’ve heard a wide range of responses. Some folks say that learning strategies are assessments and tasks. Others say that learning strategies are activities and graphic organizers. Still others, learning strategies are careful directions, visuals, learning menus, and more! The responses are nearly always oriented around what teachers are doing.

It’s time for a bit of a reframe, and a look at the research.

There’s a large body of research about learning strategies, and in the research, learning strategies have a very specific meaning: they are thinking processes that one can use to support learning. 

Again, learning strategies are thinking processes that support learning. They are not about what the teacher is doing. They are about what the learner is doing to support their own learning process.

Learning strategies are what the brain wants to, and what it is designed to do, and for many people they remain invisible; we just do them. Much of the time, we aren’t aware of doing them. People who are successful in academic contexts have been able to take these thinking processes and apply them to the world of school learning. People who are new to this context, or who have steep barriers to success in school contexts, often become successful once they learn to use learning strategies.

Some examples of learning strategies: asking questions, identifying patterns, gathering information, making predictions and inferences. We use these strategies, and others, to make meaning of the world around us. To make decisions. To figure out how something works. They are a feature of many areas of our lives: what to buy at the grocery store; how to navigate a city; who to ask for help, and what to believe.

At reDesign we first learned about learning strategies when reading the research on literacy development. 

A few decades ago literacy researchers decided that the best way to figure out how to help struggling readers would be to study strong readers and figure out what they were doing that was working. They identified a cadre of strategies that work across disciplines and across age groups: strategies that help one make meaning and deepen understanding. We later discovered that mathematics researchers had undertaken similar work, identifying what they called a set of “math habits of mind.”

Recently, one of our team members at reDesign did a deep scan of the most current research across disciplines on the most important learning strategies identified by experts. He found that, while learning strategies were described in different ways across disciplinary frameworks, there was a recurring set of strategies across these many frameworks.

We think of these as the 13 agentic learning strategies that every educator should know: strategies that literally develop agency in learning because if you can use these well, you can learn anything, and fairly rapidly. They are powerful because they are transferable: once you know them you can use them in any context, academic, professional, personal.

One of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of a quality learning experience is that it is designed to help learners become powerful users of these learning strategies.

Making Opportunities for Students to Create

Learners establish goals or intentions, appraise tasks and resources available, and develop plans for achieving them.

Learners notice when things are working or not, and when things make sense or don’t.

Learners modify their plans, shift approaches, and employ different strategies when necessary to continue progress toward their aim.

Learners move information from short term to long term memory, encoding for later retrieval with fluency and automaticity.

Learners pose questions of themselves, their experiences, tasks, content, and context.

Learners collect, sort, and manage information and manage tasks.

Learners prioritize tasks and information, and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.

Learners create and recognize links within and among prior experience, knowledge, perspectives, and tasks.

Learners create sensory images and other models and adopt perspectives outside of and beyond their own point of view.

Learners detect similarity and dissimilarity, as well as other interdependencies, correlations, and interconnections.

Learners use what they know to anticipate an outcome, formulate cause and effect, sequence, or other relationships, or create an explanation.

Learners use their experiences and understanding of concepts, ideas and phenomena to develop interpretations, draw conclusions, and make judgments, even when presented with incomplete information.

Learners construct new knowledge, complete tasks, explain phenomena, and create new artifacts using prior experience.