Variables of Learning


What I find most intriguing about the entire education debate is we repeatedly reduce education or the learning process to a minimum instead of discussing and including all of the variables at play when learning and then addressing each one individually.   This oversimplification completely bypasses the complexity of how and why anyone learns.  So what are these basic variables?

1)   Student

2)   Instructor

3)   Environment

This is actually the simplification, just looking at these 3 variables within the overall system without considering the factors that make up each and how they all interrelate, does the entire conversation a disservice.  So let’s break it down a bit further.

Student: Certainly not to be overlooked.  But what influences how, when and how well a student learns?

1)   Genetics: IQ, EQ, Focus, Personality

2)   Previous Experiences and Exposures

3)   Psychological Components: Motivation, Drive, Personality, Maturity, Values, Work Ethic

4)   Physical Health: Diet, Exercise, Sleep, Stress

Well, all of those components are what make us human.  But instead of treating students like individual human beings, we want them to be little robots who all think, learn and test the same at any given point in their lives.  That’s not even realistic given the wide range of factors in just one of the variables, the learners themselves.

 Instructor: Again, not to be overlooked.  What role does the instructor play in this dynamic exchange taking place?

1)   Previous Experiences and Exposures which dictates how well they convey and contextualize information (teaching experience)

2)   Ability to connect with students and help the students make connections to the material (this seems like a skill people are born with perhaps, genetics)

3)   Personality, Motivation, Drive, Maturity

4)   Physical Health: Diet, Exercise, Sleep, Stress

Hmmm, it’s beginning to look like a miracle any one ever learns anything at all given the complexity of this system so far.  How do you measure connection between an instructor and a student?  Because it’s vital.  What makes a great teacher is not a test score but the connections they create with their students.   But wait, there is one more component here.  The most complex of them all and the one most overlooked.


1)   Classroom environment: Well this one makes sense, right and on some levels the instructor is responsible for creating this environment.   But an environment is an ecosystem and the students play a role in that ecosystem as well.

  1. Challenging
  2. Supportive
  3. Friendly
  4. Open
  5. Creative
  6. Structured
  7. Distraction Free

2)   Overall environment (home, playground, extracurricular activities): Not really on the instructor here and since a child spends more time in this environment than the classroom, it likely plays a larger role in overall learning and this falls on the parents, family and community at large.

  1. Supportive
  2. Structured (to a point)
  3. Distraction Free
  4. Appropriate extracurricular experiences and activities
  5. Healthy environment: stress, exercise, diet, sleep

What really makes this complex is the interplay that must take place between all 3 variables and all the factors within this system.  This dynamic interchange playing out amongst these variables and factors either will support the learning process or detract from it.   The timing of all this is important as everything has to connect at the right moment and come together for learning to take place. It’s a confluence of events including the exchange between instructor, student and environment that cannot be predicted (or measured) by big data or at all for that matter.  A confluence of events that will never be replaced by an iPad or a computer.  A magical moment that cannot be standardized.  Yet, ironically, this is what is missing from the conversation.

We look to technology to somehow bolster this process yet it oversimplifies it.  Yes, we have access to more information.  I do wish we had a History channel when I was growing up.  I might have taken a larger interest in history if it could have all been presented in movies!  I really appreciate them now.  But do I better appreciate them now because I am older, have more experience and realize that history does truly repeat itself?  Do I appreciate it now because I have seen the impact history has on the present?  Is it my experiences that promote my new appreciation for history?  Do I appreciate it more now that I have a little more context or is it only because it’s now less about memorizing dates and facts and more about the story?  Even if so, would I still appreciate it as much without my life experiences?  A great movie cannot replace that moment when the light bulb goes off and the individuals make a connection to something bigger than themselves.  It might help, but it won’t help everyone.  It’s the connections that matter, the context.  Not just the information.

Someone has to guide this process.  It all has to intersect at just the right moment and I am guessing this cannot be predicted or forced as we are attempting to do within the education system.  All I can do as an instructor is provide broad enough experiences that increase the possibility the learner can connect with the material.  They either will or they won’t and some of that is on me as the instructor, but most of that is out of my control and no instructor should be held accountable for factors they cannot control.

Published by

Tiffany Reiss

Passionate educator, entrepreneur and health promoter.