The Connectionist Learning Cycle

by Julie “Jules” Troyer Ph.D.

Keeping It Real: Learning Through Connecting!
Connecting the material we are learning to our real life is the key to comprehension and recall. This model (Troyer, 2010) highlights the importance of generalizing what we have learned to other experiences and applying that knowledge in real life situations. So often we think that learning is just memorizing a set of facts so we can regurgitate them on a test; only to promptly forget them because we think they are no longer useful. Needless to say, this is not what REAL education and REAL learning is all about. The REAL key to successful studying is understanding why you are learning the material and how to use it in your personal and professional life. This model assists teachers and students in ways to improve study techniques and pedagogy for a more meaningful learning experience through a process of connecting material to the real world.

Connectionist Learning Cycle (Troyer, 2010)

1. CLARIFYthe concept; make sure you understand what it is you are learning about. Do you really understand all the aspects of the concept or material?

2. QUESTION yourself on the important elements to make sure you really do understand the material. Generate a series of questions to test yourself.

3. RELATEthe material to past experiences, prior knowledge, goals you have, or things that are important to you. Have you experienced anything that relates to this concept? Do you see yourself using this concept or skill in your future career or relationship?

4. GENERALIZE what you are learning to other situations or experiences. Make sure you see the real life relevance of the material. Ask yourself: where can you use this information?

5. APPLY the learning to other situations by discussing your insights on the material with friends, family, coworkers or anyone that will listen or find situations where you can actually use what you have learned.

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  1. Taylor Gray says:

    Completely agree. This is a great way of putting the best way of retaining information into perspective. Clarity on the subject is definitely most important; however, applying the concept to everyday life helps a ton! As students we should be more focused on mastering cetain subjects than barely learning a lot of different subjects. Like people above have said, we are so used to “memorizing” information we are taught rather than actually LEARNING and retaining it. If we can essentially apply what we learn in different subjects to everyday life and try to find a good purpose for learning the material then it should come easier to us. It is so much easier to become motivated if we look beyond what the textbook says. And from experience, when I have “applied” things that I have learned from class and relayed the information onto friends or family, I have realized that it helps me review and retain the information better. Terrific concept!

    • Taylor,
      Choosing mastery over performance goals is definitely the key to continued success; and indeed I hope this model can assist students in acccomplishing the shift from focusing on extrinsic motivation to intrinisc, as it helps so much in continued motivation and retention of the material learned.

  2. Angela Sanders says:

    I really like the Connectionist Learning Cycle listed above. I think it is important that we are able to break down the cyle of learning because all too often we are only thinking about is one thing. We are only looking at learning as retaining information just long enough to pass the test with the grade we want. As students, we have been conditioned that grades are everything. We aren’t interested in if we understand it or if we can relate it or apply it to our lives. I think that we are this way for a few different reasons. First, like I said before, we have been conditioned this way from the time we started schoo. Second, I think part of the problem is that we are in such a fast paced environment we try to do the best we can with the time we have. And third I think there is a lack of real desire to learn. If we arent interested or care about the material then we arent going to be interested in remembering the material. I like the break down of the cycle because I think if we break it down we will be more likely to retain the information because we are putting it into many different aspects.

    • Angela,
      So many students (and teachers too) only focus on the grades…not what is really being learned. It is what is learned that is important, not the grades themselves. The key to grades being meaningful are authentic assessments, activities that reflect application in the professional world, and lots of timely feedback to go along with them!

  3. Amba Nobles says:

    I totally agree with your Connectionist Learning Cycle! If we as students just learn material long enough to take a test and forget it, we’re wasting our time. Our minds are capable of retaining so much information that it’s ridiculous. Students tend to only use their working memory instead of their long-term memory. I think the reasoning behind that is because society has trained us to only do stuff for an extrinsic reward, which has rolled over into our learning. If ALL teachers actually took the time to make sure that their students understood and what they were learning and showed them how they could apply it to real life, more students would perform not on extrinsic rewards, but on intrinsic rewards. To be honest, I think society has set us up for failure unknowingly. Grades are based on performance instead of learning, so students use procedural knowledge to go through the motions instead of relating, generalizing, and applying what they learn.

    • Amba,
      You are so right that focusing on mastery goals that are fueled by intrinsic motivation is the key to truly learning the material in a class. I also agree that society as a whole supports this more extrinsic reward system, making it more difficult for teachers and students to focus on mastery over performance goals.

  4. Chris Habern says:

    I couldn’t agree with your learning cycle more! Without applying what you are learning the information just goes away to make room for working memory. I took all levels of algebra and calculus in school and was very good at it. I took geometry before any of these classes and never thought about it’s uses at the time. After building homes for years and actually applying geometry everyday I find I’ve learned it without even really knowing how good I’d become at it. I had several instances where I’d have to explain to an architect what he’d done wrong in his drawings even though he’d had years more schooling than myself. On the other hand I have forgotten almost everything about algebra and calculus because I’ve never had the need to apply them in real life.

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