Rote Versus Meaningful Learning

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Waterloo]On: 05 September 2013, At: 22:10Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office:Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Theory Into PracticePublication details, including instructions for authors and subscriptioninformation:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/htip20

    Rote Versus Meaningful LearningRichard E. MayerPublished online: 24 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: Richard E. Mayer (2002) Rote Versus Meaningful Learning, Theory Into Practice, 41:4, 226-232,DOI: 10.1207/s15430421tip4104_4

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4104_4

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    THEORY INTO PRACTICE / Autumn 2002Revising Blooms Taxonomy

    Richard E. Mayer is a professor of psychology and edu-cation at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    L EARNING INVOLVES THE ACQUISITION of knowl- edge. This is a commonsense view of learn-ing that has implications for how to teachsuchas presenting information to learners in books andlecturesand how to assesssuch as testing tosee how much of the presented material studentscan remember (Mayer, 2001). The revised Taxon-omy is based on a broader vision of learning thatincludes not only acquiring knowledge but also be-ing able to use knowledge in a variety of new situ-ations. When taking a knowledge acquisition viewof learning, teachers sometimes emphasize one kindof cognitive processing in instruction and assess-mentwhat we call Remembering. Like the origi-nal Taxonomy, however, the revised Taxonomy isbased on the idea that schooling can be expandedto include a fuller range of cognitive processes.The purpose of this article is to describe this fullerrange of processes in more detail.

    Two of the most important educational goalsare to promote retention and to promote transfer(which, when it occurs, indicates meaningful learn-ing). Retention is the ability to remember materialat some later time in much the same way it waspresented during instruction. Transfer is the abili-ty to use what was learned to solve new problems,answer new questions, or facilitate learning newsubject matter (Mayer & Wittrock, 1996). In short,

    retention requires that students remember what theyhave learned, whereas transfer requires students notonly to remember but also to make sense of and beable to use what they have learned (Bransford,Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Detterman & Sternberg,1993; Haskell, 2001; Mayer, 1995; McKeough,Lupart, & Marini, 1995; Phye, 1997). Stated some-what differently, retention focuses on the past;transfer emphasizes the future. After reading a text-book lesson on Ohms Law, for example, a reten-tion test might include questions asking studentsto write the formula for Ohms Law. In contrast, atransfer test might include questions asking stu-dents to rearrange an electrical circuit to maximizethe rate of electron flow or to use Ohms Law toexplain a complex electric circuit.

    Although educational objectives for promot-ing retention are fairly easy to construct, educatorsmay have more difficulty in formulating, teaching,and assessing objectives aimed at promoting trans-fer (Baxter, Elder, & Glaser, 1996; Mayer, 2002;Phye, 1997). The revised Taxonomy is intended tohelp broaden the typical set of educational objec-tives to include those aimed at promoting transfer.

    A Tale of Three Learning OutcomesAs an introduction, consider three learning

    scenarios. The first exemplifies what might becalled no learning, the second, rote learning, andthe third, meaningful learning.

    Richard E. Mayer

    THEORY INTO PRACTICE, Volume 41, Number 4, Autumn 2002Copyright 2002 College of Education, The Ohio State University

    Rote Versus Meaningful Learning1

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    Rote Versus Meaningful LearningMayer

    No learningAmy reads a chapter on electrical circuits in

    her science textbook. She skims the material, certainthat the test will be a breeze. When she is asked torecall part of the lesson (as a retention test), she isable to remember very few of the key terms andfacts. For example, she cannot list the major compo-nents in an electrical circuit even though they weredescribed in the chapter. When she is asked to usethe information to solve problems (as part of a trans-fer test), she cannot. For example, she cannot an-swer an essay question that asks her to diagnose aproblem in an electrical circuit. In this worst-casescenario, Amy neither possesses nor is able to usethe relevant knowledge. Amy has neither sufficient-ly attended to nor encoded the material duringlearning. The resulting outcome can be essentiallycharacterized as no learning.

    Rote learningBecky reads the same chapter on electrical

    circuits. She reads carefully, making sure she readsevery word. She goes over the material, memoriz-ing the key facts. When she is asked to recall thematerial, she can remember almost all of the im-portant terms and facts in the lesson. Unlike Amy,she is able to list the major components in an elec-trical circuit. However, when Becky is asked touse the information to solve problems, she cannot.Like Amy, she cannot answer the essay questionrequiring her to diagnose a problem in an electri-cal circuit. In this scenario, Becky possesses rele-vant knowledge but is unable to use that knowledgeto solve problems. She cannot transfer this knowl-edge to a new situation. Becky has attended torelevant information but has not understood it and,therefore, cannot use it. The resulting learning out-come can be called rote learning.

    Meaningful learningCarla reads the same textbook chapter on

    electrical circuits. She reads carefully, trying tomake sense out of it. When asked to recall thematerial, she, like Midori, can remember almostall of the important terms and facts in the lesson.Furthermore, when she is asked to use the infor-mation to solve problems, she generates many pos-sible solutions. In this scenario, Carla not only

    possesses relevant knowledge, she also can use thatknowledge to solve problems and understand newconcepts. She can transfer her knowledge to newproblems and new learning situations. Carla hasattended to relevant information and has under-stood it. The resulting learning outcome can becalled meaningful learning.

    Meaningful learning occurs when studentsbuild the knowledge and cognitive processes neededfor successful problem solving. Problem solving in-volves devising a way of achieving a goal that onehas never previously achieved; that is, figuring outhow to change a situation from its given state intoa goal state (Mayer, 1992). Two major componentsin problem solving are (a) problem representation,in which a student builds a mental representationof the problem, and (b) problem solution, in whicha student devises and carries out a plan for solvingthe problem (Mayer, 1992).

    A focus on meaningful learning is consistentwith the view of learning as knowledge construc-tion in which students seek to make sense of theirexperiences. In constructivist learning, studentsengage in active cognitive processing, such as pay-ing attention to relevant incoming information,mentally organizing incoming information into acoherent representation, and mentally integratingincoming information with existing knowledge(Mayer, 1999). In contrast, a focus on rote learn-ing is consistent with the view of learning as knowl-edge acquisition in which students seek to add newinformation to their memories (Mayer, 1999).

    Meaningful learning is recognized as an im-portant educational goal. It requires that instructiongo beyond simple presentation of Factual Knowl-edge and that assessment tasks require more of stu-dents than simply recalling or recognizing FactualKnowledge (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999;Lambert & McCombs, 1998). The cognitive process-es summarized here describe the range of studentscognitive activities in meaningful learning; that is,these processes are ways students can actively en-gage in the process of constructing meaning.

    Cognitive Processes forRetention and Transfer

    If you are interested mainly in teaching andassessing the degree to which students have learned

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    THEORY INTO PRACTICE / Autumn 2002Revising Blooms Taxonomy

    some subject matter content and retained it over someperiod of time, you would focus primarily on oneclass of cognitive processes, namely, those associat-ed with Remember. In contrast, if you wish to ex-pand your focus by finding ways to foster and assessmeaningful learning, you need to emphasize thosecognitive processes that go beyond remembering.

    What are some of the cognitive processes usedfor retention and transfer? As discussed above, therevised Taxonomy includes six cognitive process cat-egoriesone most closely related to retention (Re-member) and the other five increasingly related totransfer (Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, andCreate). Based on a review of the illustrative ob-jectives listed in the original Taxonomy and anexamination of other classification systems, wehave selected 19 specific cognitive processes thatfit within these six categories. These 19 cognitiveprocesses are intended to be mutually exclusive;together they delineate the breadth and boundariesof the six categories. In the discussion that fol-lows, each of the six categories, as well as thecognitive processes that fit within them, are de-fined and exemplified.

    RememberWhen the objective of instruction is to pro-

    mote retention of the presented material in muchthe same form in which it was taught, the relevantprocess category is Remember. Remembering in-volves retrieving relevant knowledge from long-term memory. Remembering knowledge is essentialfor meaningful learning and problem solving whenthat knowledge is used in more complex tasks. Forexample, knowledge of the correct spelling of com-mon English words appropriate to a given grade lev-el is necessary if a student is to master writing anessay. When teachers concentrate solely on rote learn-ing, teaching and assessing focus solely on remem-bering elements or fragments of knowledge, often inisolation from any context. When teachers focus onmeaningful learning, however, remembering knowl-edge is integrated within the larger task of con-structing new knowledge or solving new problems.In other words, when meaningful learning is thegoal, then remembering becomes a means to anend, rather than the end itself. The two associatedcognitive processes are recognizing and recalling.

    Recognizing (also called identifying) involveslocating knowledge in long-term memory that isconsistent with presented material. For example, insocial studies, an objective could be Identify themajor exports of various South American countries.A corresponding test item would be Which ofthese is a major export of Colombia? (a) bananas,(b) coffee, (c) silk, (d) tea.

    Recalling (also called retrieving) involves re-trieving relevant knowledge from long-term mem-ory. In literature, an objective could be Recall thepoets who authored various poems. A correspond-ing test question would be Who wrote The Chargeof the Light Brigade?

    UnderstandAs you can see from the previous section,

    when the goal of instruction is to promote reten-tion, the most important cognitive process is Re-member. However, when the goal of instruction isto promote transfer, the focus shifts to the otherfive cognitive process categories, Understandthrough Create. Of these, arguably the largest cat-egory of transfer-based educational objectives em-phasized in schools and colleges is Understand.Students are said to understand when they are ableto construct meaning from instructional messagesincluding oral, written, and graphic communica-tions, and material presented during lectures, in books,or on computer monitors. Examples of potential in-structional messages are an in-class physics dem-onstration, a geological formation viewed on a fieldtrip, a computer simulation of a trip through an artmuseum, or a musical work played by an orches-tra, as well as numerous verbal, pictorial, and sym-bolic representations on paper.

    Students understand when they build connec-tions between the new knowledge to be gained andtheir prior knowledge. More specifically, the in-coming knowledge is integrated with existing sche-mas and cognitive frameworks. Cognitive processesin the category of Understand include interpreting,exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring,comparing, and explaining.

    Interpreting (also called clarifying, para-phrasing, representing, or translating) occurs whena student is able to convert information from oneform of representation to another. In mathematics,

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    for example, a sample objective could be Learnto translate number sentences expressed in wordsinto algebraic equations expressed in symbols. Acorresponding assessment item involves asking stu-dents to write an equation (using B for the numberof boys and G for the number of girls) that corre-sponds to the statement, There are twice as manyboys as girls in this class.

    Exemplifying (also called illustrating or in-stantiating) occurs when a student finds a specificexample or instance of a general concept or princi-ple. In art history, an objective might be Learn toidentify various artistic painting styles. A corre-sponding assessment involves asking students tofind a new example of the impressionist style (withnew meaning an example not included in the text-book or used in class).

    Classifying (also called categorizing or sub-suming) occurs when a s...

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