Approaches to Learning
Approaches to learning in the Diploma Programme
The development of skills such as thinking skills and communication skills is frequently identified as a crucial element in preparing students effectively for life beyond school. A 2007 survey of 400 hiring executives of major US corporations identified their top four requirements of new recruits as being oral and written communication skills, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, professionalism and work ethic, and teamwork and collaboration skills (Trilling and Fadel 2009). Similar skills lists have been developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and are also the subject of numerous books such as The Global Achievement Gap (Wagner 2010). Yet many students struggle with some of the basic skills of effective learning. For example, good note-making has been positively correlated with academic achievement, yet research suggests that many university students have difficulty even with the fundamental skill of making notes from lectures or texts (Kiewra 1985, O’Donnell and Dansereau 1993).
Developing students’ ATL skills is about more than simply developing their cognitive skills. It is also about developing affective and metacognitive skills, and about encouraging students to view learning as something that they “do for themselves in a proactive way, rather than as a covert event that happens to them in reaction to teaching” (Zimmerman 2000: 65). By developing ATL skills and the attributes of the learner profile, DP students can become “self-regulated learners” (Kaplan 1998). Self-regulated learners have learned how to set learning goals, ask good questions, self-interrogate as they learn, generate motivation and perseverance, try out different learning processes, self-monitor the effectiveness of their learning, reflect on achievement, and make changes to their learning processes where necessary (Zimmerman and Schunk 1989, de Bruin et al. 2011, Wolters 2011).
The term “skill” is therefore used in a broad sense in the DP to encompass cognitive, metacognitive and affective skills. Cognitive skills include all the information-processing and thinking skills, often called “study skills” in a school environment. Affective skills are the skills of behaviour and emotional management underpinning attitudinal factors such as resilience, perseverance and self-motivation, which often have a large role to play in educational achievement. Metacognitive skills are the skills that students can use to monitor the effectiveness of their learning skills and processes, to better understand and evaluate their learning. Although these skills may be in use when manifesting a certain natural ability or talent, they are different to both of these because proficiency in any skill can be increased through the deliberate use of techniques and strategies, feedback and challenge. Skills are therefore highly teachable.
In the DP, as well as in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP), these cognitive, metacognitive and affective skills are grouped into the same five ATL categories.
Although these skills areas are presented as distinct categories, there are obviously close links and areas of overlap between them, and it is intended that these categories should be seen as interrelated. It is also the intention that these ATL skills should be seen as linking closely with the attitudes and dispositions identified in the IB learner profile. The learner profile is the IB mission statement translated into a set of learning outcomes for the 21st century. It is an easily communicated set of ideals that can inspire, motivate and focus the work of schools and teachers, uniting them in a common purpose.
The next five sub-sections of this document will explore each of the five ATL skills categories in turn. They will identify some of the specific skills that make up these categories, discuss what these skills look like in students, and discuss strategies for their development.