Dimensions of Learning – Part 1

More than just an education

Being a great school requires more than just providing the best possible education, or at least it requires a different view of what education is.

With the 21st Century Learning Design (21CLD) skills as the foundation for everything we are about, we then need to ensure we fully re-think the how, what and why of what education is about. The quote above comes from our college ethos statement and is, in summary, exactly what we are about; providing ‘great’ education by looking differently at what education actually is.

There’s a plethora of educational initiatives out there & each year one seems become the trendy ‘go to’ theory that’s going to revolutionise learning; they never do … Primarily because they have been watered down in translation through government committees, or because they have been mis-translated by enthusiastic trainers looking for a new angle to sell professional development courses to schools. Whether it’s ‘VAK’ or the more current ‘grit’, these fads do all have some basis in academic research ; it’s just that they miss the point when they reach the classroom.

One way to avoid fads is to base the whole pedagogy on a single, thorough, lasting model. Alongside the 21st Century Learning Skills foundation, we have taken on the work of Robert Marzano (Marzano, 1992), where he describes 5 ‘Dimensions’ of leaning, and embracing the effective ‘Habits of Mind’, described by Costa & Kallick (2000).

The Dimensions of Learning provide an entire description of effective learning that can be used to ensure that have, as our introduction to our ethos states, a different view of what education is.

The dimensions fit perfectly into short term planning, and provide further structure to embed the 21CLD skills. They also provide (if needed) a formal justification for putting student wellbeing at the heart of the school.

There are 5 Dimensions, as described by Marzano which together provide an entire framework for a 21st Century school:

Dimension 1: Attitudes and Perceptions

Attitudes and perceptions affect students’ ability to learn. For example, if students view the classroom as an unsafe and disorderly place, they will likely learn little there. Similarly, if students have negative attitudes about classroom tasks, they will probably put little effort into those tasks. A key element of effective instruction, then, is helping students to establish positive attitudes and perceptions about the classroom and about learning.

This, then, provides a modern justification, also, of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1948) – Without ensuring that a student feels safe, secure and cared for (Maslow’s three ‘lower’ needs), then they will not be receptive to any effective learning.

Therefore classroom layout, pastoral structures, teacher-student interaction, all of this is essential in getting the first part of being a great establishment right.

So, in our classrooms, we are installing 2 flat screen TVs, in place of the now endemic ‘smart’ board and projector. The TVs have higher quality displays, higher contrast and are easier to see in bright light (so there’s no need to have students sitting in darkness as if they were vampires off the set of a Twilight movie).

With teacher and student all having a touch-screen windows 10 device in front of them, and all material delivered through collaborative OneNote notebooks, the classroom becomes a much more dynamic environment. This, then, encourages effective and real use of ICT (one of the 21CLD skills)

And our classrooms are, therefore, bright, light and airy, with tables in ‘clusters’, to encourage collaborative learning.

Staff are expected to treat all students with the same level of respect they would expect & the environment encourages the attitude of collaborative learning (the first 21CLD skill) & self-regulation (another 21CLD skill!).

And even in simple interactions; an Australian Principal & School Leadership Expert, recently posted on the Microsoft Showcase School Leaders Yammer group a challenge to think twice about even the simple questions you ask when walking down a corridor. Rather than asking the standard ‘How’s it going?’ style of question, why not ask a ‘real’ question, such as:

“I’ve been thinking about … what do you think?” – making real connections and valuing people in the organisation, wherever you meet them. (Read the full quote here)

Dimensions 2, 3 & 4: Knowledge

The core 4 dimensions, then, outline the different levels and types of learning, with knowledge acquisition, extension and use being the focus of what the classroom engagement is all about…

Dimension 2: Acquire and Integrate Knowledge

Helping students acquire and integrate new knowledge is another important aspect of learning. When students are learning new information, they must be guided in relating the new knowledge to what they already know, organising that information, and then making it part of their long-term memory. When students are acquiring new skills and processes, they must learn a model (or set of steps), then shape the skill or process to make it efficient and effective for them, and, finally, internalise or practice the skill or process so they can perform it easily.

Dimension 3: Extend and Refine Knowledge

Learning does not stop with acquiring and integrating knowledge. Learners develop in-depth understanding through the process of extending and refining their knowledge (e.g., by making new distinctions, clearing up misconceptions, and reaching conclusions.) They rigorously analyse what they have learned by applying reasoning processes that will help them extend and refine the information. This is another of the key 21CLD skills.

Dimension 4: Use Knowledge Meaningfully

The most effective learning occurs when we use knowledge to perform meaningful tasks. For example, we might initially learn about tennis racquets by talking to a friend or reading a magazine article about them. We really learn about them, however, when we are trying to decide what kind of tennis racquet to buy. Making sure that students have the opportunity to use knowledge meaningfully is one of the most important parts of planning a unit of instruction. This is, in the 211CLD skills, the application of knowledge to real-world problem solving.

Dimension 5: Productive Habits of Mind

The most effective learners have developed powerful habits of mind that enable them to think critically, think creatively, and regulate their behaviour. Developing these habits of mind is, effectively, the over-arching goal, as when a student has effective habits of mind, they are then in a state where learning becomes second nature and they will learn throughout their lives. I will explore Habits of Mind more fully in a separate post.


Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (2000). Discovering & Exploring Habits of Mind. A Developmental Series, Book 1. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1703 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311-1714

Marzano, R. J. (1992). A different kind of classroom: Teaching with dimensions of learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1250 North Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Maslow, A. H. (1948). “Higher” and “lower” needs. The journal of psychology, 25(2), 433-436.

Dimensions of Learning – Part 1

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