Summary of How Learning Works

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  • Applicable
  • Well Structured
  • Concrete Examples


This well-structured and clear guide to effective teaching makes an excellent companion for any high school or college instructor. The authors – Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett and Marie K. Norman – put responsibility for the success of learning squarely on teachers who must create conditions that motivate students, set clear expectations that students understand and encourage self-directed learning, all in a safe, inclusive climate. A tall order! By describing seven principles, each grounded in theory, research and practice, the authors provide convincing evidence that it can be done. They also include multiple actions teachers can apply to put each principle into practice.

About the Authors

Professors and educational researchers Susan Ambrose, Michele DiPietro, Marsha Lovett and Marie Norman contribute to the mission of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at Carnegie Mellon University. Michael Bridges leads faculty development at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.



The application of seven principles leads to more effective teaching and learning.

Learning should result in students knowing something new, or changing what they believe, how they behave or how they think about something. No two learners share the same prior experience, even as they embark on the same course or program. Every student will interpret, remember and incorporate learning content differently. This affects how they learn, and whether and to what extent they engage in the learning. What a student learns takes on greater relevance only when it is combined and integrated with other learning. Learners also need goals, quality feedback, a variety of learning strategies at their fingertips, and a learning climate that’s conducive to self-direction.

These skills can be grouped under seven learning principles that bridge learning theory with practice. The principles apply to any discipline, culture or experience level: 

1. “Students’ prior knowledge affects their learning.”

Problems can arise when students have incomplete knowledge or are not up to the task of the ...

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