Learning is Social

This week in my Principles of Learning Course, we talked about an article called Brain/Mind Natural Learning Principles (Caine & Caine, 2012)  which outlines 12 principles of learning. I focused Capacity #2: All students have the capacity to comprehend more effectively when their needs for social interactions and relationship are engaged and honored.

As an educator who has been involved in co-teaching for many years, I have the advantage of observing classroom practices and notice that so much of the instruction in our classrooms is about students working independently and quietly at the same task as others in the classroom.  I reflect on my own teaching of English many years ago and how much time I spent instructing and students working. This principle reinforces the need to revisit some of our traditional practices.

Research of teacher-centered learning and cooperative learning in science has found  that “learning is more effective when students are actively involved in sharing ideas and working cooperatively with other students to complete academic tasks” (Ebrahim, 2012, pg 16).  In my own experience as a Literacy Consultant, I used the Adolescent Literacy guide to help teachers understand the development of the adolescent learner. The guide references the importance of social learning and in particular provides this advice to teachers in terms of how they might tap into students’ social development and learning:

  • providing opportunities for students to interact with each other to attain personal and collaborative goals;

  • grouping and regrouping students for a variety of purposes to build confidence and competence in various social arrangements (Edugains , 2016, pg 16).

Strong relationships are foundational to educating students today which Willms, Friesen & Milton argue includes building social cohesion: “Today’s teachers are called upon to work with colleagues to design learning environments that promote deeper engagement in learning as a reciprocal process. Learning can no longer be understood as a one-way exchange where ‘we teach, they learn.’ It is a reciprocal process that requires teachers to help students learn with understanding, and not simply acquire disconnected sets of facts and skills” ((Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009). They stress the importance of making school a “socially, academically, and intellectually exciting and worthwhile place to be” (Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009).

I see this with my own daughter, who will use Facetime to video conference with her peers before a big test in order to learn the material more effectively. She complains about not having enough opportunities to do this in school.

I am passionate about using the vast reach of technology and social media to connect students. And in my experience connecting students to each other using technology and social media, has been extremely effective. I have seen an increase in engagement and achievement when students connected their learning in a social context. An example I share in my book, Social LEADia occurs when I helped connect a Religion class to a class in Buenos Aires, the teacher noted:

“Everything we learned about in class could be related back to our interactions to Argentina and because these were experiences they were having and connections they were making the learning was individualized and made important to them! This directly translated into academic success as they just wrote their Unit 2 test and the class average was 91%  in comparison to their Unit 1 tests which the class average was 71%. On many of the student’s tests they included examples and stories of their connections to those students in Argentina and for me that was a huge teacher win!” (Machala, 2016).

Social media connections serve to complement in-class connections as well. Students’ shared experience connecting with others can bring a class together. I have seen this happen on several occasions especially when time is given to reflect on the process.

I am also right now working with students who are working together to create a Pit Stop (game about a location in the world) for an Amazing Race EDU collaborative project, as well as their own Breakout EDU challenges. The final product asks them to consolidate their learning and arrive at a product which relies on the collaborative contributions of others. Students are actively engaged and their biological need to work with others is being met. It is important to note that  the planning for the project happens in face to face groups as well as online.

This principle caused me to pause and reflect on my instructional practices to ensure that I am actually meeting the needs of my students. Is most of what we require individual? How do we strike a balance to ensure that the needs of students who do really thrive on independent work are balanced with the need to be social? I invite your own thoughts and reflections in the comments.


Brain/Mind Natural Learning Principles  Renate N. Caine, Ph.D. and Geoffrey Caine, LL.M.

Ebrahim, A. Int J of Sci and Math Educ (2012) 10: 293. https://doi-org.uproxy.library.dc-uoit.ca/10.1007/s10763-011-9293-0

Edugains. Adolescent Literacy Guide. (2016) 1-124. Retrieved from


Mahala, R. (2016, October 31). Global Connections [Web log post]. Retrieved October 28, 2017,

from http://www.calledtobecatholic.com/2016/10/31/hello-world/

Willms, J. D., Friesen, S. & Milton, P. (2009). What Did You Do in School Today? (First National

Report). Toronto: Canadian Education Association. cea-ace.ca/sites/cea-ace.ca/files/cea-2009-wdydist.pdf

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