Learning & Teaching Foreign Languages

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Cognitive psychologists Rumelhart and Norman identify three separate phases of learning, summarized below from a 1978 paper:

1. accretion: the learner acquires facts and information, accumulating more structures onto the already existing knowledge structures. This phase of learning is adequate only when the material being learned is part of a previously understood topic.

2. restructuring: the learner must devise new memory structures to interpret the material that is to be acquired. This is the most difficult and the most significant form of learning, for it marks the acquisition of truly new conceptualizations.

3. tuning: the learner refines learning: both constraining and generalizing the knowledge within the schemata of memory. This stage of learning does not increase the formal content of one's knowledge, but it makes the use of the knowledge more efficient.

Information processing theory assumes that declarative knowledge becomes proceduralised or automatised with practice, freeing up processing capacity for new learning.

But new knowledge must also be integrated into existing structures, through restructuring processes which may result in U-shaped learning curves, where learners seem to lose competence before regaining it.


Read and reflect: U-shaped learning


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