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Concept Learning: Seeing the Lightbulb Come On

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Concept learning is a type of learning that you can almost see happening. When a student masters a concept, it is like watching a light bulb turn on. On the one hand, it makes it quite simple to assess that student has mastered the concept; however, oftentimes it is getting them there which is the real challenge.

Conceptual learning happens for students of all ages. It is the moment when something you concretely know turns into something you abstractly understand. For instance, the first time a child sees a dump truck hauling off rubbish and asks what happens to that trash, they are approaching the precipice of some concept learning. If that moment is fostered with questions such as “Do you think it goes into the ocean?” or “Do you think it goes into the land?” the child might start to really think about where the trash goes, and start to understand the concept of environmental waste.

Concepts become increasingly complex as we get older and experience life’s intersecting interests. A concept in action such as government can generate thinking about concepts such as taxation. This is what is referred to as a defined concept and its associated concepts. In high school, students are expected to start developing this line of thinking. Scaffolding acronyms like SPICE are meant to remind students to think about the Social, Political, Intellectual, Cultural and Economic implications of an event in history helping them to explore a concept and its associated concepts from an organized approach.

Complex concepts are the interactions and understandings that we develop about how things work in the world and society. Doing business is an area where complex concepts about accepted practices guide our trust in the system, but also give a form to the boundaries from which innovation can grow. On one level, the world which we know is increasingly abstracted into a web-based form allowing services and opportunities for social and professional connections to come into existence. Pushing the boundaries of the concept of doing business, and transferring it to an entirely new platform seemed like science-fiction years ago, but is well within our conceptual understanding today.

The keys to successful concept learning are fairly straightforward. Inquiry and discovery are at its heart. Examples and models are useful. Questioning and discussion often switch the light bulb on, as well. Even a simple word can trigger the next great conceptual leap. Mostly though, in this realm of learning, experience really counts.

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