Category: Learning

Introducing…’How Learning Happens’

Almost two years ago, I was asked by Professor Paul Kirschner to write a book with him. The original title was ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ and the basic premise was to discuss what we felt were the foundational works in education psychology and present them to educators in a way that would hopefully inform their practice. To be asked by someone of Paul’s stature was a huge honour for me and I really enjoyed reading through almost 100 years of the best evidence on learning and the weekly meetings over Skype talking about the book (and football).

The chapters are divided into six sections. In the first section we describe how our brains work and what that means for learning and teaching. This is followed by sections on the prerequisites for learning, how learning can be supported, teacher activities, and learning in context. When we got near the end of the book we thought it would be good to provide some cautionary tales so in the final section we discuss what can only be described as educational Novichok in a chapter called ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Education’ which you can download for free here.

It was a fantastic experience to write this book with someone like Paul. His knowledge on this topic is vast and he has a unique ability to make the highly complex accessible and explain even the most difficult psychological processes in a clear and concise way. I learned an awful lot from him over the 18 months we worked together about how learning happens and I hope you learn something from it too.


“So often I’ve been asked to recommend a starting text for educators interested in the workings of the mind―now I have one. The text Kirschner and Hendrick offer alongside each seminal article does a wonderful job of situating the content in the broader scientific context, and in the classroom.”

– Daniel WillinghamProfessor of Psychology and Director of Graduate Studies, University of Virginia

“As the volume of research into psychology and education grows, it becomes ever harder for researchers, let alone teachers, to keep up with the latest findings. Moreover, striking results often turn out to be difficult, or impossible to replicate. What teachers need, therefore, is good guidance about research that has stood the test of time, and practical guidance about how these well-established findings might be used to inform teaching practice, and this is why this is such an extraordinary, wonderful and important book. Paul Kirschner and Carl Hendrick have selected the most important research publications in the psychology of education, and, for each publication, they have provided a summary of the research, the main conclusions, and a series of practical suggestions for how the findings might inform teaching practice. I know of no other book that provides such a rigorous, accessible and practical summary of the last fifty years of research in educational psychology, and anyone who wants to understand how research can improve teaching needs to read this book. Highly recommended.”

– Dylan WiliamEmeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, University College London

It’s hard to overstate just how fabulous this book is; a book I’ve wanted to exist for years and now here it is. A judicious and comprehensive selection of seminal research papers presented by two expert communicators, this is absolutely superb – from the mouth-watering list of contents, and through each of the chapters. I meet teachers in schools every week who, on hearing about various findings from research, feel liberated, enlightened with a whole new perspective on the problems they wrestle with in their classrooms. Teachers are busy – often overwhelmed – and all too frequently have not yet found the time or had the opportunity to engage with research that underpins the profession they’ve committed their lives to. This book is going to change that for a lot of people. The format is excellent, presenting the original papers alongside insightful commentary and key practical recommendations; a brilliant idea executed with style! Every school should have this book and every teacher should read it.”

– Tom Sherringtoneducation consultant; author of The Learning Rainforest and Rosenshine’s Principles in Action

Teachers are rightly encouraged to base their practice on research – but education research is a huge field and it’s hard to know where to start. This book provides the answer: it’s valuable in its own right as a summary of some key research papers, and it’s also a great starting point for further reading and research.”

– Daisy ChristodolouDirector of Education at No More Marking

“With the increasing volume of calls for education to become more evidence based, teachers everywhere have shaken their heads and wondered where on earth they’re supposed to find the time to locate, read and evaluate the ever-increasing acreage of research papers out there. Worry no more. In How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice, Kirschner and Hendrick have done the hard work so that you don’t have to. The volume you have in your hands has compiled some of the most important and prominent research papers in the field of education and distilled them into a form that is genuinely useful to anyone chipping away at the chalk face. But, not only is this a resource of unparalleled utility, it’s also a fascinating and world-enlarging read.”

– David Didauauthor of Making Kids Cleverer

“Future historians of education will look back on this period as a Renaissance; a time when dogma and orthodoxy were being challenged, and gate keepers, priesthoods and shamans felt the ground shift beneath their feet. The sleep of reason has bred monsters of pedagogy, and they have been fattened and nurtured by the relative ignorance of the teaching profession. Not a general ignorance, but a specific one: ignorance of the evidence bases behind the claims made in education. This Renaissance has been accompanied by an evolution, as teachers and academics reach out to one another and seek sincere, authentic dialogue. But, unless we stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us, each generation is doomed to rediscover what their ancestors painstakingly uncovered. For the health of the profession, we need the best of what we know in one place, so that successive generations of educators can carry on from their ancestors, and carry the conversation into the future rather than tread water endlessly.

This book is the perfect resource with which to do so. I can give no higher accolade than to say that every teacher should be familiar with the research it represents, its chapters should be required reading on every teacher induction course, and no teacher should account themselves a professional until they can demonstrate its acquaintance. I wish I had read it in the infancy of my career.”

– Tom BennettFounder, researchED